There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates, and masters not needing slaves.

This condition would be that each (inanimate) instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which Homer relates that "Of their own motion they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus" as if a shuttle should weave of itself, and a plectrum should do its own harp playing."

Aristotle wrote this in "The Politics" nearly two dozen centuries ago. In the passage quoted above, the great philosopher seems to envision future technology in general, and automata in particular, as the one thing that will someday finally make it possible for man to live in freedom.

Automata as the key to freedom

When I first encountered the above quotation in the late 60s, it was on the cover of one of my professional jounals (ACM Computing Reviews), just as I was just entering the (then new) computer field.

What impressed me greatly was Aristotle's prediction that automation might finally provide man with the ability to become truly free. In effect, the great philosopher said that the very field which I was entering could provide the means for mankind to finally achieve liberty. In short, he seemed to say that all that was essential to achieve the libertarian dream was the new computer devices and the skills I was acquiring to use them.

OK, maybe I'm stretching the point a bit, but think about it. An inanimate instument that can "do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation". Maybe Aristotle was wrong in envisioning a statue-shaped mainframe or a micro that resembles a harp plectrum, but it sure sounds like computer programming to me.

It is a very comforting -- and plausible -- notion that modern technology may help satisfy human needs so thoroughly and cheaply as to eliminate the motive for most of the conflicts that have arisen in the past between individuals or between nations. i.e. In abundance, there is much peace.)

Contemporary Evidence

In support of the notion that technology can liberate our species from slavery and oppression, witness the role of computers and networks (and encryption) in the wake of incidents such as Tienamen Square, the Soviet coup, or the Waco massacre. Various forms of modern technology, from email to smuggled floppies to Ham radio were used to disseminate rapidly (and anonymously, where necessary) information that might otherwise have been suppressed.

No wonder Andropov and his protege Gorbachev worried about the destabilizing influence of personal computers even more so than their predecessors feared the illegal printing presses hidden in citizens' cellars. Information Science, as well as cheap and efficient information processing, is a dire threat to those whose power rests upon their control of information and their monopoly of gnosis (knowledge).


While Aristotle may seem to acknowledge the need for human slaves in ancient Greece, he envisions a future world where technology has alleviated such a need.

Before condemning Aristotle for his uncritical mention of slavery, the reader must recall that in his time, not only was slavery commonplace in ancient Greece, it was generally accepted that no civilization could survive without this source of labor. While he does not go out of his way to condemn slavery, Aristotle clearly is unhappy with the practice and wishes for a day when slaves and subordinates are no longer necessary to sustain a civilized lifestyle. (This may well have been the strongest abolitionist view at the time!)

Thus, not only was Aristotle the rare visionary who could forsee a distant future where there was no need for slavery, but he identified a type of device by means of which mankind could someday be freed of all shackles. Indeed, it was only in recent centuries that slavery was ended in most of the world, and only after the invention of machines to replace manual labor.

Oldest literary referernce to Automata, Computers, Robots

While Aristotle presages electronic music machines as well as the Jacquard looms which Countess Lovelace tried to program, he also provides what I believe to be the earliest literary reference to automata: Homer's description of the "tripods" which Hephaestus (Vulcan) created on his fiery forge. Clearly, this predates by well over two millenia both Karl Kapek's term "robot" and Charles Babbages "calculating engine".

Based on this prior terminology, I mused that my own field of endeavor (now variously known as "computer science", "software engineering", "cybernetics", "programming", "analysis", or other unsatisfyingly inaccurate labels) perhaps should be called "tripodics" -- i.e. the study of "tripods", based on Homer's example of automata or self-acting robots. When I later had to submit up a name for my computer consulting company, I registered it as "Tripodics". (Tripodics is a DBA in Suffolk County, NY.)

Beacuse my principal vocation involves software architecture, design, and programming, my email .sig file describes me appropriately as a "Master of the Tripods of Hephaestus" and even appends a few doodads representing some of the tripods which I program:

MY SHORT SIG: (Bruce A. Martin)     /|\Master of the Tripods of Hephaestus./|\  
[My opinions are my property, belong to me only, and represent no one else!]
# include           /***** Marrou/Lord in '92 *****/
# delete BUSHLIPS,SlickWillie     /***** CALL 800-682-1776  *****/


BAM  /|\Master of the Tripods of Hephaestus./|\  Bruce A. Martin   (
~~~  [NOTE: Since my opinions are my property,]  Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider
~o~  [they neither belong to nor represent my ]  911C / Brookhaven National Lab.
/|\  [employer, its customer, nor anyone else!]  Upton, NY 11973  (516) 282-5647 

# include     	/***** Marrou/Lord in '92 *****/
# delete BUSHLIPS,SlickWillie	/**** CALL 800-682-1776  *****/

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