would a robotic jesus have to obey the three laws?

via BoingBoing.
a robot housekeeper.  an etiquette and protocol droid.  a portable extension of the ship’s computer.  robotic arms that build cars.  we often think of robots in terms of utility – it’s that slavic root again (‘to do, to labor’).

but long before do androids dream of electric sheep? and i, robot, people have been trying to build electromechanical creatures that have not only intelligence and agency, but something more, some higher purpose to be served.  spiritualists got into the robot game, and one notable among these was john murray spear.  a universalist minister, abolitionist, and activist for women’s rights and against the death penalty, he was attacked, vilified and even beaten for his views and practices, stripped  of his pulpit and in essence, driven quite mad.

By 1852, partly under the influence of his daughter, Sophronia, Spear began heeding the direction of spirit messages to people and places where his freelance ministry—which now included “magnetic” healing through the laying on of hands—would be of most help. That year, in a state of trance, he conveyed twelve messages from the spirit of John Murray, which he had transcribed and published as Messages from the Superior State.

He soon declared himself the chosen medium, or “general agent on Earth,” of the spirits of John Murray, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and other distinguished departed who had together formed a “Congress of Spirits.” Spear let it be known that the “Congress” would deliver plans, through him, for the remaking of society. Through Spear the spirit of Jefferson discoursed against slavery. Universalist physician Benjamin Rush’s spirit directed him to give lectures on health and medicine. Scientific spirits, like Franklin’s, relayed information to assist with advances in technology, including a perpetual motion machine, an electric thinking machine, an electric ship, an intercontinental telepathic network, and an improved sewing machine. The “Congress” also urged the foundation of spiritualist utopian communities in Kiantone, New York and Patriot, Indiana.

no common heavenly host, these.  among the scientific and technological advances promoted by this “Band of Electricizers”, was what became known as ‘the God machine’ – “a mechanical Messiah, that was supposed to raise up all of humanity” (via wikipedia.

they set to work building the thing out of copper and zinc, setting it on a dining room table. a full description via the Fortean Times (registration may be required) follows…

Spear’s total lack of scientific and technical knowledge was considered an advantage, as he would be less inclined to alter the Electricizers’ blueprints with personal interpretations or logic (what remote viewers might call “analytical overlay”). The parts were carefully machined from copper and zinc, with the total cost reaching $2,000. (A prosperous minister then earned around $60 a week.)

No images of the New Motive Power exist, but apparently it was impressive, sitting on a big dining room table. “From the center of the table rose two metallic uprights connected at the top by a revolving steel shaft. The shaft supported a transverse steel arm from whose extremities were suspended two large steel spheres enclosing magnets. Beneath the spheres there appeared [..] a very curiously constructed fixture, a sort of oval platform, formed of a peculiar combination of magnets and metals. Directly above this were suspended a number of zinc and copper plates, alternately arranged, and said to correspond with the brain as an electric reservoir. These were supplied with lofty metallic conductors, or attractors, reaching upward to an elevated stratum of atmosphere said to draw power directly from the atmosphere. In combination with these principal parts were adjusted various metallic bars, plates, wires, magnets, insulating substances, peculiar chemical compounds, etc… At certain points around the circumference of these structures, and connected with the center, small steel balls enclosing magnets were suspended. A metallic connection with the earth, both positive and negative, corresponding with the two lower limbs, right and left, of the body, was also provided.”

In addition to the “lower limbs”, the motor was equipped with an arrangement for “inhalation and respiration.” A large flywheel gave the motor a professional appearance. This, however, was only a working model; the final version would be much bigger and cost 10 times as much.

The metal body was then lightly charged with an electrical machine resulting in a “slight pulsatory and vibratory motion [..] observed in the pendants around the periphery of the table”.

perhaps it looked something like this (via the Fortean Times):

an unnamed woman called the New Mary was eventually brought before the machine to ‘give birth’ to this new Messiah. after two hours of ‘labor’, the machine was, Spears claimed, animate for a few minutes. despite a great deal of spiritualist hype, nothing much came of this “New Motive Power, the Physical Savior, Heaven’s Last Gift to Man, New Creation, Great Spiritual Revelation of the Age, Philosopher’s Stone, Art of all Arts, Science of all Sciences, the New Messiah.” eventually it was dismantled and moved to Randolph, New York where Baptist ministers apparently riled up the town against the spiritualist talisman, now in pieces in a shed – the people stormed the shed and destroyed the machine.  how very frankenstein’s monster.  (which, by the way, i have now downloaded onto iPhone via Stanza… i’ll be sure to talk about it later, yo.)

bringing a machine to life – a machine to lift up all mankind, a machine to love you, a machine to make moral choices – is something spiritualists and scientists have struggled with since … well, i’m not sure how long, but apparently quite some time. is it about giving birth to something greater? is it about making god real and manifest, if not quite corporeal? is it about gaining control or mastery? i don’t know – i don’t build robots, and i don’t really believe in god.

there’s a published book about spears, if you want to know more… but in some ways more interestingly, a band called Pinataland has written a song about it. you can hear it here – it’s called “Dream of the New Mary”. and if you live in brooklyn, they’re performing today in front of the Old Stone House on 5th Avenue between 3rd & 4th. they have an eclectic sound, and some of these songs work a bit better than others, but i’ll give it up for Dream of the New Mary. go hear it.

vaya con dios.
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