I've very often been wondering about how people used to think "back in the day" about all kinds of technical things.
For example, once it was common knowledge that factories existed, and most people had seen huge steam-powered trains and stuff like that, and maybe even construction machines and maybe a "time piece" or two shown off by some rich gentleman who lets the peasants gaze in awe over its intricate cogwheels and fine details in the ticking "portable clock"... then I'm sure that some people would have the thought of having steam-powered "metal men" who would perhaps work as servants or workers in mines or whatever.
But did they really think that this was "just around the corner", or "may even exist"? I'm no genius by any means, and even with my "modern eyes", I'm still very fascinated with even the earliest factories and crude, large mechanical machines, but even so, there is a very long stretch between being fascinated that a machine can mass-produce something automatically, entire without or with just a little help from human operators, and thinking that they could use the same technology in miniature format to make a human-like "robot servant" who would walk around in your house and serve tea and open the door and whatnot.
I mean, I can easily "understand" the general idea behind a factory machine, even if I can't make one myself or instruct others in detail on how to do it, but I literally have no idea how they could ever make such a robot even today, in the year 2020, since all my interactions with technology, even in this "far future" (from the point of view of the 19th century), have been of frustrations and disappointments. Back then, they obviously didn't have advanced computers like the one I'm typing this on, but then they should have been even more skeptical toward the idea of a "metal servant" than I am today, no?
It seems to me that the computing power required to emulate even the dumbest human servant would simply be impossible to make with cogwheels of the kind that existed in those days, like in one of those fascinating, hand-crafted mechanical watches. An entire grown man's body full of such wheels would not be able to do anything like the tasks expected from a servant, or even be able to detect walls and objects... or even walk upright.
For God's sake... they can't even do it today, 120 years later than 1899. The only robots I've ever seen video proof of have been absolutely pathetic. A big joke. Like the kind which has zero practical use and barely is impressive as a demo if your expectations are anything resembling the most basic kind of servant robot.
I don't like it when people think that people "back in the day" were complete morons and the average person today is so enlightened and smart... because it's just not the case. I think people back then of course fantasized about sci-fi scenarios, but I hardly think that they saw this as realistic or that the technology they had would move so fast forward as to let them have robot servants in their lifetime.
Note that, although my focus is the 1800s, I'm also interested in hearing what you think about people in even earlier times thought about these things.