Pandora: the first android

Hesiod recounts in Theogony how Zeus became angry with Prometheus for giving the gift of fire to humans, that he decided to take revenge upon the humans by creating the first woman.  Here’s a retelling of the story by using some more familiar terms.

Zeus commanded Hephaestus, the god-engineer, to make the first woman (please note that according to Theogony there were only men living on earth until then). Hephaestus knew the art of making androids (or “gynaekoids” to be more exact) well, because he had already built several of them, beautiful maidens that obediently served him at his lab-cum-workshop. But Pandora had to be special. So after the basic hardware was constructed by Hephaestus, and the operating system was put in place, Zeus invited the other gods in Olympus to give Pandora “gifts”, i.e. special functions and properties.

What made Pandora different from the other robots in Hephaestus lab was a gift given to her by Hermes, the god of thieves and traders: “the gift of deceit”. Pandora was furnished with “theory of mind”; she could tell what other people thought or thought that they thought and use this knowledge to manipulate them. Thus she was named the “all-gifted” and duly dispatched to the middleworld of humans.

The Greek myth of Pandora is one of many in the ancient world where gods, and sometimes talented humans, build artificial beings – usually women. One can read much in stories such as these.

historian of technology may recognize the roots of imagining artificial life and intelligence. A feminist may read the obsessive will of men to subjugate women taken to an extreme: why not create one according to specification? An ethicist may diagnose a precautionary tale: Pandora with her insatiable curiosity ultimately brings about the fall of humankind. Finally, a philosopher of science may notice a disconnect with evolution: artificial intelligence is created, not evolved. Pandora, the all gifted, is a design.

You may argue that this is just another creation myth from a tribe of white people who lived in the Balkans many thousands of years ago. Yes, it is exactly that, a tale from a non-scientific past. Nevertheless, some of us may see a disturbing symmetry arising – another Pandora being born into a not-so-distant, scientific future.