It probably has better penmanship than me…

Today in class I talked a little about what makes something a robot, or an androiod, or a cyborg, but I didn’t bring up the notion of an automaton. This article has a really nice description of Jaquet-Droz’s writing automaton, including video [via Clicked]. The article points ot that the automaton is really closer to being a precursor of the computer than a precursor of the robot, because it can change what message it writes out based on a “program” on a wheel. Though, the “program” is not truly a program, as it does not change the essential functioning of the automaton, but simply
a specification of how to perform its one very limited behavior. Certainly, there is no true autonomy, despite the name.
If you’re looking for a classic automaton story, you should read through the Wikipedia article about the mechanical Turk hoax from the late 1700’s/early 1800’s. It’s a pretty amazing story of people’s willingness to believe that machines are capable of more than they really are based on some minimal plausible evidence.

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