Artificial Intelligence, Robots and The Wizard of Oz

Ideas about robots and artificial intelligence have been immensely explored in literature at the advent of the twentieth century. In 1900, L. Frank Baum’s classic book “Wizard of Oz” featured the “Tin Man,” a character made out of metal looking for a “heart”, generally embodying what people now deem as robots. On the other hand, the “Scarecrow” search for a “brain,” seemingly symbolizes humans’ desire for intelligence.

Who would’ve thought that back in those days we already have a thinking machine and a desire for man-made consciousness? A time far before the terms “robots” and “AI” were made and the existence of the first genuine computer and robots. In this article, let’s trace the roots of artificial intelligence and smart robots and how the iconic book and film relate to AI’s history across the years.


Though the book was published in 1900 and the film was shown in 1939, it was only in the 1950s when the concepts about artificial intelligence peaked involving cognitive scientists, experts, researchers, and mathematicians. One of which was Alan Turing, a young British polymath and computer scientist who had the notion that if humans can decide, solve problems, and deal with different issues by utilizing reason and accessible information, then why can’t machines do exactly the same?

In his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery, and Intelligence,” he dove deeper into the idea of creating an intelligent machine and testing its insight or capabilities to that of a human being. Though the concept then was pretty fascinating, Alan Turing faced many hindrances along the way.

The task of the actual creation of smart machines and administering tests on their intelligence became a daunting task. Like the “Scarecrow,” technology then doesn’t have the “brain,” or one that is sufficient or capable yet to carry out the project. At that time, computers were pretty rudimentary compared to the specifications we have today. Thus, it does have much the speed, storage, and power to accomplish what’s needed and deliver the promises. Adding the cost and the AI theory being a fresh concept without any proof,  backing and funding were not present, which made AI machines at that time pretty unattainable.

Scarecrow, Wizard of Oz

It was in 1956 when the term “artificial intelligence” was first coined when it was used in the “Dartmouth College Artificial Intelligence Conference.” In this gathering, the “Logic Theorist” was presented and was regarded as the first artificial intelligence program, intricately engineered to execute automated reasoning and resemble human’s problem-solving. While the results of the introduction failed to generate agreement on standard approaches, it proved to be successful as it served as evidence that AI was, indeed, feasible.

With that, the subsequent decades saw the concept of artificial intelligence blooming. New developments came and kept the field thriving. In 1965, ELIZA, a language program capable of communicating in English was created and considered a breakthrough. In the 1970s, Waseda University released WABOT-1 and WABOT-2. They were two humanoid robots, with the former being equipped with stereo vision, walking function, speech recognition, and talking capability. The latter was an improvement of the first model, but with greater communication skills, and capability of reading musical scores, and playing the electric keyboard.

In 1995, ALICE chatbot came, which, unlike ELIZA, was able to perform more realistic communication, thanks to its natural language processing capability. A new era started in 1997 after Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer created by IBM, won a chess match and game against Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion at that time.

Tin Man

Such advancement became a milestone for AI as it finally had the “brain” required for interacting with humans. Yet, AI felt very cold and transactional. For instance, chatbots then were merely relaying information without the capability for empathy, making them quickly discernible than humans. It is lacking something. Like the “Tin Man,” AI didn’t have a “heart.”

It was not long enough when developers and experts from the field realized that AI should not only have the “intelligence” but must bear “emotional quotient” and demonstrate empathy. In 2000, Kismet came and became the first robot that was able to perform emotional and social interactions by recognizing and stimulating facial expressions. Two years later, it was followed by the more advanced ASIMO, which could demonstrate gestures, posture, recognize moving objects, and distinguish sounds and faces, allowing it to connect to humans.

Cowardly Lion, Wizard of Oz

With the advancement of technology, we are now experiencing more advanced systems that became significantly beneficial to our lives today. From Google Assistant to Siri, Alexa, we can do things pretty conveniently than it was more than a century before. As far as things go, we can expect to see more developments in the future. After all, aside from the “brain” and “heart,” humans already had the “courage” that the “Cowardly Lion” sought in the story. Who knows what else humans can achieve in the future?