An exhibition featuring over 100 objects has been announced as the Manchester Science Festival 2017 headliner

NEVER mind Doctor Who, you don’t have to time travel or planet hop to encounter bionic beings this year. The Museum of Science and Industry (MSIM), organisers of the longstanding Manchester Science Festival (MSF), have announced that this year’s festival headliner will be Robots; an exhibition charting humanity’s 500-year quest to recreate ourselves in mechanic form.   

The blockbuster exposition will be travelling up north from MSIM’s partner, London’s Science Museum, to launch the festival; which runs from 19 to 29 October. With over 100 exhibits, the collection spans a sixteenth century monk to a ‘particularly creepy baby’ and even a mischievous receptionist.   

Among various other highlights will be an articulated iron manikin from the 1500s; Cygan, a 2.4m-tall 1950s robot with ‘a glamorous past’; and Eric, the UK’s first robot, who has been rebuilt following his mysterious disappearance thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. Robots from science fiction and modern-day research will also feature; enabling visitors to discover their ‘wonderfully rich’ cultural, historical and technological context.  

170209 Robots Msf 2
Well they did say it was creepy...

In the exhibition, visitors will go behind the scenes to glimpse recent research developments, exploring how roboticists (yes, that’s a profession) are building robots that resemble us and interact in human-like ways. The exhibition will end by asking visitors to imagine what a shared future with robots might be like; something that, as the relentless march of technological advance continues, is becoming increasingly probable. 

It’s a fascinating prospect - explored by the likes of Channel 4’s Humans - but also a scary one. As applied futurist (yes, also a profession) Tom Cheeswright argued in last year’s Ted X Manchester event, today’s electronic devices are ‘amalgamations of our own brains’ - meaning that we’re essentially humanoids already. Yet, with the prospect of self-driving cars and robots that do our grocery shopping (more worryingly, with free rein over our credit cards), perhaps it’s time to consider how far we want the relationship to go...   

170209 Robots Msf 3
Robots and humans - a fading boundary?

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group said: “This exhibition explores the uniquely human obsession of recreating ourselves, not through paint or marble but in metal. Seeing robots through the eyes of those who built or gazed in awe at them reveals much about humanity’s hopes, fears and dreams.”  

Antonio Benitez, Director of the Manchester Science Festival, said: “Manchester Science Festival is delighted to announce Robots as our first headline event for 2017. This exhibition will be an extraordinary opportunity for our audiences to explore the ways robots mirror humanity and the insights they offer into our ambitions, desires and position in a rapidly changing world.” 

2017 marks the eleventh year of the Manchester Science Festival; last year a record 136,000 people attended 125 events across 60 venues in the city and across Greater Manchester. The full programme for this year will be announced in September. 

Robots opens on Wednesday 8 February at London’s Science Museum. It will be at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry from 19 October 2017 - 15 April 2018 before continuing its tour to Newcastle’s Life Science Centre and Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland.