Picturing Female Robots at the New York Hall of Science

Female robots and androids are popping up everywhere, especially in today’s movies and popular television shows like Westworld and Humans. The exhibit “Picturing Female Robots and Androids” at the New York Hall of Science features large color photographs of these artificial females and is on view until October 22, 2017.

The exhibit, based on my book My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves, showcases images from movies, television, video games, art, robotics, and also includes mannequins and dolls. These facsimile females range from ancient times to today’s robots with artificial intelligence that look so real they can easily fool the eye.

What makes these simulated ladies so fascinating? Many of them show us what modern science and technology (sometimes mixed in with a little madness) can do, as seen in The Stepford Wives, Bride of Frankenstein, and more recently Ava in the film Ex Machina and Orisa in the video game Overwatch.

These robots and other female lookalikes reflect age-old efforts to create artificial beings that seem amazingly lifelike. They also reveal to us our changing cultural images of women themselves, from the sexy and obliging Stepford Wives who love to cook and clean to today’s powerful female video game avatars movie robots who long for their own freedom and go their own way. Expanding on the familiar Barbie doll look, Mattel’s Fashionistas line of Barbies also reflect changes by showing the diversity of women in size, skin tones, and hair.

The exhibit spotlights men’s fascination with using science and technology to create their ideas about “The Perfect Woman.” It also highlights how in our digital age, new lifelike robots are increasingly blurring the lines between the artificial and real. The exhibit poses provocative questions, asking, “In the future, will these ultra-realistic creatures entertain us, help us as caretakers and companions, or even surpass us someday?”

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Julie Wosk is a professor at the State University of New York, Maritime College in New York City and the author of several books including, My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves and Women and the Machine: Representations From the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age.

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