Man as Machine

The early days of robots. The Age of Enlightenment inspired inventors like Jacques de Vaucanson to create ever more realistic machines that mimicked human behavior:

“Vaucanson, however, was less a philosophical theorist than a practical, even greedy businessman. In 1739, as profits from the Flute Player’s performances began to decline, he added two new automatons to his exhibit. One was a pipe-and-drum player. The other—which was to make him, for a time, one of the most famous men in Europe—was a mechanical duck.

“And not merely a wind-up duck that flapped its wings and quacked and turned its head. If you held out a bit of food in your palm, the duck’s head would lower, its beak would fall open, and the automaton would actually gulp down the morsel. And then, some minutes later—Reader, I am not making this up—the duck would excrete it.”

Author: Max Byrd
Published: Feb 7, 2012
Length: 11 minutes (2,969 words)