Artificial people are not a new thing. To be clear, I am not talking about non-human legal entities, nor do I mean the sort of folk you meet at cocktail parties who can talk for hours without saying anything. Here I refer only to people whose creators are other technically skilled people.
This notion of artificial people goes back as far as recorded history, with mythical “beings” dating to circa 400 BC. The famous notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci contained sketches of humanoid mechanisms dated 1495. It’s unclear if he ever tried to build any of them, but in his day when scientists often ran afoul of the Church, doing so openly would not have been wise.
More recently, Disney has dabbled in this stuff as well. I remember as a teenager on one of my first visits to Disneyland, there was much buildup and excitement leading to “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. After all the fanfare, a somewhat stilted life-sized likeness of Honest Abe spoke briefly in a small, dimly lit theater. Another early Disney entry into artificial creatures was the Enchanted Tiki Room, where to this day the artificial birds continue to annoy unwitting crowds.
Software has taken on an increasing role, graduating from sequentially operating actuators and playing recorded messages to making simple decisions. Back when home computers were first becoming popular, one of the more intriguing programs was called “Eliza”, billed as a computer psychiatrist. A rudimentary predecessor to Siri, Eliza would parse your typed input and mimic the responses of a couch-doc.
Eliza: Hello, I am Eliza
Paul: Hello, I am Paul
Eliza: Did you come here because you are Paul?
Paul: Why, is there something wrong with being Paul?
Eliza: What answer would please you the most?
Paul: That being Paul is OK.
Eliza: I see.
Astute readers will note the uncanny resemblance to a real shrink.