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. Homer is cited and quoted, in reference to automata.


Oldest literary reference to Automata, Computers, Robots

While Aristotle presages electronic music machines as well as the Jacquard looms which Countess Lovelace attempted 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 Babbage's "calculating engine", not to mention the more-recently-coined word, "computer".

Homer used the Greek word for "tripod" to identify an (inanimate) instrument that follows a set of commands previously prepared by an intelligent (animate) individual. Basetime upon this venerable usage, one can reasonably form the word "tripodics" to identify the study of such machinery -- including computers and self-acting robots -- as well as the art of creation sets of commands or "programs" to control these tripods. "Tripodics" is a far less misleading term for related fields of endeavor than the existing set of unsatisfyingly inaccurate labels, such as "computer science", "software engineering", "cybernetics", "system analysis", "programming", and so forth.

When the time came for me to submit a name for this computer consulting company, I registered it as "Tripodics". (Tripodics was first registered in 1986 as a DBA in Suffolk County, NY.)

Automata as the key to freedom

When I first encountered the above quotation in the mid-1960s, 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 had 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 what was essential to achieve the libertarian dream was the new computer devices and the skills that I was acquiring to make use of 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 microprocessor 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. Today, both cell phones and the internet are being used effectively to challenge censorship, to prevent both the outlawing of encryption and the imposition regulation, and to loudly "blow the whistle" when tyrants in various countries attempt to quietly impose new tyrannies.

Thus it is no wonder that KGB head Yuri Andropov and his protege Mikhail Gorbachev both worried about the destabilizing influence of personal computers. Their predecessors had feared and tried to suppress the "illegal printing presses" hidden in citizens' cellars. Information Science, as well as cheap and efficient information processing, was a dire threat to those whose power rested upon their control of information and their monopoly of gnosis (knowledge).

Even in pre-computer times, communication technology and the free flow of information often played a vital role in preserving individual liberty and overcoming or preventing the rise of tyranny. In an earlier era, Benjamin Franklin insisted that the newly-independent nation establish a system of "post roads", partly because of the vital role that had been played a few years earlier by the "Committees of Correspondence". A Century later, communication technologies such as the Pony Express, railroad delivery of mail and newspapers, and the telegraph, were often instrumental protecting individuals, exposing fraud and oppression, and preserving the republic. Even the "Underground Railroad" (which had no tracks, but relied on a network of safe houses) could not have functioned without the free flow of information


While Aristotle may seem to acknowledge a 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.


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