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Elektro the Moto-Man Had the Biggest Brain at the 1939 World’s Fair

This voice-controlled robot could walk, talk, and smoke, and it captivated crowds

6 min read
Photo of Elektro robot.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be very glad to tell my story. I am a smart fellow as I have a very fine brain of 48 electrical relays.” This is how Elektro the robot introduced itself to crowds at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Standing 2.1 meters tall and weighing 118 kilograms, Elektro performed 26 different tricks, including walking, talking, counting, and singing. It had a vocabulary of approximately 700 words, although its responses were all prerecorded and played back from 33⅓-rpm records. One of Elektro’s pet lines was, “My brain is bigger than yours.” At 25 kg, it certainly was.

Elektro was one of a family of robots that evolved out of Westinghouse’s switchgear business. By the early 1920s, the company had succeeded in developing fully automatic electrical substations, and its engineers were looking for ways to improve them. One operator requested a way to call the substation system remotely and initiate a change in the normal operating routine. Thus was born Televox, a set of control units that started Westinghouse down the path to developing robots.

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The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry

How Kim Choong-Ki helped the nation become a semiconductor superpower

15 min read
A man in a dark suit, bald with some grey hair, leans against a shiny blue wall, in which he is reflected.

Kim Choong-Ki, now an emeritus professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, was the first professor in South Korea to systematically teach semiconductor engineering.

Korea Academy of Science and Technology
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They were called “Kim’s Mafia.” Kim Choong-Ki himself wouldn’t have put it that way. But it was true what semiconductor engineers in South Korea whispered about his former students: They were everywhere.

Starting in the mid-1980s, as chip manufacturing in the country accelerated, engineers who had studied under Kim at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) assumed top posts in the industry as well as coveted positions teaching or researching semiconductors at universities and government institutes. By the beginning of the 21st century, South Korea had become a dominant power in the global semiconductor market, meeting more than 60 percent of international demand for memory chips alone. Around the world, many of Kim’s protégés were lauded for their brilliant success in transforming the economy of a nation that had just started assembling radio sets in 1959 and was fabricating outdated memory chips in the early ’80s.

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