Jacques de Vaucanson

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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

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Ada Lovelace, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Book of Ingenious Devices, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, colonial exploitation, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Drosophila, Fellow of the Royal Society, game design, global village, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, HyperCard, invention of air conditioning, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Landlord's Game, lone genius, megacity, Minecraft, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres, Necker cube, New Urbanism, Oculus Rift, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, pattern recognition, pets.com, placebo effect, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Oldenburg, spice trade, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, talking drums, the built environment, The Great Good Place, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, Victor Gruen, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog, working poor, Wunderkammern

A Representation of that Beautiful Prospect Adam had in Paradise.” (When the robots eventually write the history of their species, these animated tableaux will serve nicely as a creation myth.) By the early 1700s, the focus shifted from re-creating the bustle of an animated village or garden to building increasingly lifelike simulations of individual organisms. In the first half of the eighteenth century, the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson famously constructed an automaton called the Digesting Duck that consumed grain, flapped its wings, and—the pièce de résistance—actually defecated after eating. A few decades later, in 1758, a Swiss horologist named Pierre Jaquet-Droz traveled to Madrid to present an array of wonders to King Ferdinand, most of them pendulum or water clocks that featured animated storks, flute-playing shepherds, and songbirds—the mechanical descendants of al-Jazari’s ingenious devices.

While the shepherd was in fact a machine, it played the flute the way any human would: by blowing air through the mouthpiece in varying rhythms, while covering and uncovering air holes on the body of the flute itself. Hidden inside the pedestal, air pumps and crankshafts controlled the pressure of the air released through the shepherd’s mouth, along with the movement of the automaton’s fingers. A pinned cylinder controlled the volume and sequence of the notes played; a rotating collection of cylinders allowed the shepherd to play twelve distinct songs. The flute player was the creation of Jacques de Vaucanson, the French automaton designer now most famous for his “digesting duck.” (The duck would appear at the Hôtel de Longueville on a pedestal next to the flute player the following year.) Vaucanson was the first of the automaton designers to focus on creating truly lifelike behavior in his machines, with movements that were predicated on careful anatomical study. After a decade of desultory work and travel displaying a handful of early designs, Vaucanson had attracted the patronage of a Parisian gentleman named Jean Marguin.

(And, in the case of the flute player, to accompany those sound waves with physical movements that mimicked the behavior of human musicians.) Think of all the ways that the world has been transformed by software, by machines whose behavior can be sculpted and reimagined by new instruction sets. For almost a thousand years, we had that meta-tool in our collective toolbox, and we did nothing with it other than play music. Jacques de Vaucanson Vaucanson’s flute player, however, would lead us out of that functional cul-de-sac. Designing the programmable cylinders that brought the musical shepherd to life suggested another application to Vaucanson, one that had far more commercial promise than showcasing androids in hotel lobbies. If you could use pinned cylinders to trigger complex patterns of sound waves, Vaucanson thought, why couldn’t you use the same system to trigger complex patterns of color?


pages: 797 words: 227,399

Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Atahualpa, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, Bill Joy: nanobots, blue-collar work, borderless world, clean water, Craig Reynolds: boids flock, cuban missile crisis, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Firefox, Francisco Pizarro, Frank Gehry, friendly fire, game design, George Gilder, Google Earth, Grace Hopper, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, if you build it, they will come, illegal immigration, industrial robot, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of movable type, invention of the steam engine, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, job automation, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Law of Accelerating Returns, Mars Rover, Menlo Park, New Urbanism, pattern recognition, private military company, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, robot derives from the Czech word robota Czech, meaning slave, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Wisdom of Crowds, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Wall-E, Yogi Berra

—SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL “Perhaps the most wonderful piece of mechanism ever made” is how the famous Scottish engineer Sir David Brewster would describe it some one hundred years after it was invented. By contrast, the great poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called it “most deplorable ... like a skeleton [with] digestive problems.” The two men were talking about Vaucanson’s duck, the mechanical wonder of its age, or, as present-day scientists call it, “the Defecating Duck.” Jacques de Vaucanson was born in Grenoble, France, in 1709. At the age of twenty-six, he moved to Paris, then the center of culture and science during the Age of Enlightenment. Inspired by Isaac Newton’s idea of the universe as a great clock that had been set in motion by the Creator, the Deist philosophers of the time saw the world as guided by mechanical forces. They believed that everything, from gravity to love, could be understood if you could just scientifically reason it out.

Congress ordered the Pentagon to show a “preference for joint unmanned systems in acquisition programs for new systems, including a requirement under any such program for the development of a manned system for a certification that an unmanned system is incapable of meeting program requirements.” If the U.S. military was going to buy a new weapon, it would now have to justify why it was not a robotic one. In a certain way, then, the history of robots had come full circle. Jacques de Vaucanson had impressed the most powerful leaders of his time with a futuristic vision of a world filled with artificial creations. Some 250 years later, President George Bush, the first president of the twenty-first century, saw the world turning out to be much the same way, just without the duck. “Now it is clear the military does not have enough unmanned vehicles,” he said. “We’re entering an era in which unmanned vehicles of all kinds will take on greater importance—in space, on land, in the air, and at sea.”

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What Kind of Creatures Are We? (Columbia Themes in Philosophy) by Noam Chomsky

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Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, conceptual framework, en.wikipedia.org, failed state, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, means of production, phenotype, Ronald Reagan, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, Turing test, wage slave

The theoretical counterpart was the materialist conception of the world that animated the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, the conception of the world as a machine, simply a far grander version of the automata that stimulated the imagination of thinkers of the time much in the way programmed computers do today: the remarkable clocks, the artifacts constructed by master artisans like Jacques de Vaucanson that imitated animal behavior and internal functions like digestion, the hydraulically activated machines that played instruments and pronounced words when triggered by visitors walking through the royal gardens. The mechanical philosophy aimed to dispense with forms flitting through the air, sympathies and antipathies, and other occult ideas, and to keep to what is firmly grounded in commonsense understanding and intelligible to it.


pages: 222 words: 74,587

Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 by Markus Krajewski, Peter Krapp

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business process, double entry bookkeeping, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Gödel, Escher, Bach, index card, Index librorum prohibitorum, information retrieval, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, Jacques de Vaucanson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, knowledge worker, means of production, new economy, paper trading, Turing machine

Remington & Sons Typewriter Company, spun off by gun producer Eliphalet Remington II in 1886, acquires both Library Bureau and Globe Wernicke, merging them the following year with Rand Kardex to form Remington Rand Inc.78 A department called Remington Kardex Bureau spurs the decisive advancement of the index card to an automated storage device principle whose origins refer once more to Europe, that is, to the eighteenth century and Jacques de Vaucanson as well as Joseph Marie Jacquard’s punch cards.79 After 1958, five electric-pneumatically linked Remington Rand typewriters print the paper slips of the last analog catalog of the Austrian National Library, five copies synchronized by compressed air. However, they prove inferior to the more robust and soon widely used electric typewriters of the International Business Machines Corporation, and as a result are disposed of.80 The intertwined genealogy of card index makers and typewriter manufacturers, leading to the production of the universal discrete machine, remains an American history of mergers and acquisitions.


pages: 361 words: 83,886

Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics and the Coming Robotopia by Frederik L. Schodt

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carbon-based life, computer age, computer vision, deindustrialization, Deng Xiaoping, deskilling, factory automation, game design, guest worker program, industrial robot, Jacques de Vaucanson, Norbert Wiener, post-industrial society, robot derives from the Czech word robota Czech, meaning slave, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, telepresence, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, V2 rocket, Whole Earth Review, women in the workforce

Then there were "real" automata. Hero of Alexandria's "Treatise on Pneumatics," written in the first century A.D., described how pneumatics, counterweights, and cams could be used to construct mechanical singing birds, drinking animals, and even a type of coin vending machine. In the eighteenth century, European automata reached their zenith with the application of complex mechanisms from clock technology. Jacques de Vaucanson fascinated the entire continent with a mechanical duck that quacked, ate, and defecated. The androids of Pierre Jaquet-Droz and sons could draw, write messages, and play musical instruments and were so uncannily lifelike they are said by some to have inspired Mary Shelley to write her novel Frankenstein. Compared with all this, Japan's history of automata is rather spotty. As in nearly all cultures, there are plenty of stories of magical beings in Japan; tales of mechanical dolls date back to the ninth century.


pages: 330 words: 102,178

Steampunk Prime: A Vintage Steampunk Reader by Mike Ashley, Paul Di Filippo

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Fellow of the Royal Society, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, Plutocrats, plutocrats

Jason, in his quest for the Golden Fleece, encountered Talos, a bronze giant made by the god Hephaestus to protect the island of Crete. It walked around the island three times each day making itself red hot and embracing any strangers it encountered. Mechanical toys, usually of clockwork, were made throughout the Middle Ages though the first genuine life-like bio-mechanical toy was that of a flute player made by the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson in 1737. These toys became very popular and were also represented in fiction, one of the earliest being the Talking Turk in “Automata” by E. T. A. Hoffmann, published in 1814. It was the idea of creating man that really launched science fiction with the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and it was the “steam man” featured in the popular dime-novel adventures, starting with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F.


pages: 370 words: 94,968

The Most Human Human: What Talking With Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

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4chan, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, carbon footprint, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, crowdsourcing, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, George Akerlof, Gödel, Escher, Bach, high net worth, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, Jaron Lanier, job automation, l'esprit de l'escalier, Loebner Prize, Menlo Park, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Skype, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

“Turing was very [mathematically] smart, and he suggested the Turing machine as a way to describe a mathematician.16 It’s [modeling] the way a person solves a problem, not the way he recognizes his mother.” (Which latter problem, as Sacks suggests, is of the “right hemisphere” variety.) For some time in eighteenth-century Europe, there was a sweeping fad of automatons: contraptions made to look and act as much like real people or animals as possible. The most famous and celebrated of these was the “Canard Digérateur”—the “Digesting Duck”—created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The duck provoked such a sensation that Voltaire himself wrote of it, albeit with tongue in cheek: “Sans … le canard de Vaucanson vous n’auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France,” sometimes humorously translated as “Without the shitting duck we’d have nothing to remind us of the glory of France.” Actually, despite Vaucanson’s claims that he had a “chemistry lab” inside the duck mimicking digestion, there was simply a pouch of bread crumbs, dyed green, stashed behind the anus, to be released shortly after eating.

Powers and Prospects by Noam Chomsky

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anti-communist, Berlin Wall, Bretton Woods, colonial rule, declining real wages, deindustrialization, deskilling, Fall of the Berlin Wall, invisible hand, Jacques de Vaucanson, John von Neumann, Monroe Doctrine, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, South China Sea, theory of mind, Tobin tax, Turing test

Another superficial similarity is the interest in simulation of behaviour, again only apparent, I think. As I mentioned earlier, the first cognitive revolution was stimulated by the achievements of automata, much as today, and complex devices were constructed to simulate real objects and their functioning: the digestion of a duck, a flying bird, and so on. But the purpose was not to determine whether machines can digest or fly. Jacques de Vaucanson, the great artificer of the period, was concerned to understand the animate systems he was modelling; he constructed mechanical devices in order to formulate and validate theories of his animate models, not to satisfy some performance criterion. His clockwork duck, for example, was intended to be a model of the actual digestion of a duck, not a facsimile that might fool his audience. In short, this was simulation in the manner of normal science: construction of models (in this case, mechanical models) to enhance understanding, not a confused attempt to answer a question that has no meaning.

New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind by Noam Chomsky

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dark matter, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, theory of mind, Turing test

Focusing on language use, Descartes and his followers, notably Géraud de Cordemoy, outlined experimental tests for “other minds,” holding that if some object passes the hardest experiments I can devise to test whether it expresses and interprets new thoughts as I do, it would be “unreasonable” to doubt that it has a mind like mine. This is ordinary science, on a par with a litmus test for acidity. The project of machine simulation was actively pursued, but understood as a way to find out something about the world. The great artificer Jacques de Vaucanson did not seek to fool his audience into believing that his mechanical duck was digesting food, but rather to learn something about living things by construction of models, as is standard in the sciences. Contemporary debate contrasts rather unfavorably with the tradition, it would seem ( Jonathan Marshall 1989; see also Chomsky 1993a; for further comment and for more extensive discussion, see Chomsky 1966).


pages: 542 words: 161,731

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

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Albert Einstein, Columbine, global village, Hacker Ethic, helicopter parent, Howard Rheingold, industrial robot, information retrieval, Jacques de Vaucanson, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Loebner Prize, Marshall McLuhan, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rodney Brooks, Skype, stem cell, technoutopianism, The Great Good Place, the medium is the message, theory of mind, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, Wall-E, women in the workforce

I watched it walk jerkily onto an empty stage, followed by its inventor, Toshitado Doi. At his bidding, AIBO fetched a ball and begged for a treat. Then, with seeming autonomy, AIBO raised its back leg to some suggestion of a hydrant. Then, it hesitated, a stroke of invention in itself, and lowered its head as though in shame. The audience gasped. The gesture, designed to play to the crowd, was wildly successful. I imagined how audiences responded to Jacques de Vaucanson’s eighteenth-century digesting (and defecating) mechanical duck and to the chess-playing automata that mesmerized Edgar Alan Poe. AIBO, like these, was applauded as a marvel, a wonder.1 Depending on how it is treated, an individual AIBO develops a distinct personality as it matures from a fall-down puppy to a grown-up dog. Along the way, AIBO learns new tricks and expresses feelings: flashing red and green eyes direct our emotional traffic; each of its moods comes with its own soundtrack.


pages: 372 words: 152

The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin

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banking crisis, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, blue-collar work, cashless society, collective bargaining, computer age, deskilling, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, employer provided health coverage, Erik Brynjolfsson, full employment, future of work, general-purpose programming language, George Gilder, global village, hiring and firing, informal economy, interchangeable parts, invention of the telegraph, Jacques de Vaucanson, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, land reform, low skilled workers, means of production, new economy, New Urbanism, pink-collar, post-industrial society, Productivity paradox, Richard Florida, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, strikebreaker, technoutopianism, Thorstein Veblen, Toyota Production System, trade route, trickle-down economics, women in the workforce, working poor, working-age population, Works Progress Administration

Engineers built little mechanical boys who wrote Crossing into the High-Tech Frontier 63 out poems and prose, petite mechanical maidens who danced to music, and animals of every kind and description performing wondrous feats. The toys, which became a favorite of princes and kings, were toured and put on exhibition throughout Europe. The most elaborate of the automata were the brainchildren of a brilliant and imaginative French engineer, Jacques de Vaucanson. In 1738 Vaucanson amazed his fellow countrymen with the introduction of a fully automated flutist. The mechanized miniature of a human being "possessed lips that moved, a moving tongue that served as the airflow valve, and movable fingers whose leather tips opened and closed the stops of the flute." Voltaire was so taken by the sight of the lifelike, remarkable little creature that he dubbed Vaucanson "Prometheus's rival."


pages: 413 words: 119,587

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots by John Markoff

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A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, AI winter, airport security, Apple II, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Bill Duvall, bioinformatics, Brewster Kahle, Burning Man, call centre, cellular automata, Chris Urmson, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, collective bargaining, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, DARPA: Urban Challenge, data acquisition, Dean Kamen, deskilling, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Hofstadter, Dynabook, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Erik Brynjolfsson, factory automation, From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death, future of work, Galaxy Zoo, Google Glasses, Google X / Alphabet X, Grace Hopper, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hacker Ethic, haute couture, hive mind, hypertext link, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, information retrieval, Internet Archive, Internet of things, invention of the wheel, Jacques de Vaucanson, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Conway, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, labor-force participation, loose coupling, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, medical residency, Menlo Park, Mother of all demos, natural language processing, new economy, Norbert Wiener, PageRank, pattern recognition, pre–internet, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Stallman, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, Sand Hill Road, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, semantic web, shareholder value, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Singularitarianism, skunkworks, Skype, social software, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, telemarketer, telepresence, telepresence robot, Tenerife airport disaster, The Coming Technological Singularity, the medium is the message, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Catalog, William Shockley: the traitorous eight

It taught Cheyer that with a small dose of imagination, he could make anything he wanted.2 As a child he dreamed of becoming a magician. He had read books about the great magicians and thought of them as inventors and tinkerers who tricked others by using technology. Before he was ten he was saving his money to buy books and tricks from the local magic store. Later, he realized that his interest in artificial intelligence was rooted in his love of magic. His favorite eighteenth-century magicians and clockmakers led by Jacques de Vaucanson had built early automata: chess-playing and speaking machines and other mechanical humanoid robots that attempted to illuminate the inner workings of what he, like Gruber, would come to see as the most magical device of all—the human brain.3 Although Cheyer knew nothing of Engelbart’s legendary NLS, in 1987 he built his own system called HyperDoc while working as an artificial intelligence researcher with Bull, the aerospace firm, in France.


pages: 405 words: 117,219

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis

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3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, millennium bug, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

The first idea stems from our primal and innate desire to create artefacts that behave as if they were alive. The second idea comes from the study of logic, and the curious discovery that logic and mathematics are twins. Let’s look at these two ideas and how they became one. We saw how automata, imported from Byzantium and the Caliphate, became popular in Western Europe during the Renaissance. By the late 1700s the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782) had designed and built the first automaton purportedly capable of digestion, the ‘digesting duck’: one could feed the mechanical duck with kernels of grain and the machine seemed to metabolise and discharge them through defecation. Many other inventors and engineers fashioned entertaining automata. In the early 1800s the Swiss mechanic Henri Maillardet (1745–1830) created an automaton capable of drawing four pictures and writing out three poems.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton

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anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, centre right, colonial rule, Colonization of Mars, cosmic microwave background, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, double helix, East Village, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Frank Gehry, germ theory of disease, Golden Gate Park, Google Earth, Haight Ashbury, horn antenna, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index card, Jacques de Vaucanson, Kowloon Walled City, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mutually assured destruction, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, Tunguska event, urban sprawl, Vesna Vulović, wikimedia commons, working poor

The cabinet beneath the chess board held a squashed chess master who made every move by candlelight, pulling levers to operate the Turk’s arm and keeping track of the moves on his or her own board. The Turk was nothing but an elaborate hoax. While the Turk was frustrating its opponents, genuine automatons delighted onlookers with their realistic movements. The Digesting Duck, the 1739 creation of Jacques de Vaucanson, flapped its wings, moved its head, ate grains, and shortly afterward defecated. The digestion process was not authentic—the duck’s backside housed a reservoir of droppings that would fall in response to the amount of grains being “eaten”—but it was the first step toward what de Vaucanson hoped would eventually be a genuine eating machine. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his two sons spent six years starting in 1768 crafting The Musician, The Draftsman, and The Writer, a trio of dolls now housed in Switzerland’s Museum of Art and History.


pages: 687 words: 189,243

A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr

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Andrei Shleifer, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, clockwork universe, cognitive dissonance, Copley Medal, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, Deng Xiaoping, Edmond Halley, epigenetics, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, framing effect, germ theory of disease, Haber-Bosch Process, hindsight bias, income inequality, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge economy, labor-force participation, land tenure, law of one price, Menlo Park, moveable type in China, new economy, phenotype, price stability, principal–agent problem, rent-seeking, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, South Sea Bubble, statistical model, the market place, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transaction costs, ultimatum game, World Values Survey, Wunderkammern

There can be no doubt that in a purely artisanal world, evolutionary sequences of microinventions did take place that led to considerable technological progress, both product and process innovation. Moreover, some of the more interesting “great inventors” of the age—starting with Newcomen and his assistant John Calley, the clockmaker John Harrison and the instrument maker James Watt—were skilled artisans themselves. Yet artisans, unless they were as unusually gifted and well educated as the brilliant inventor Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782) or the ingenious French armorer and inventor Edme Régnier (1751–1825), were good at making incremental improvements to existing processes, not in expanding the epistemic base of the techniques they used or applying state-of-the-art scientific knowledge to their craft. In other words, a purely artisanal knowledge society will not create a cluster of macroinventions that revolutionized production from the foundation.9 Artisans were also not well positioned to rely on the two processes of analogy and recombination, in which technology improves by adopting or imitating tricks and gimmicks from other, unrelated, activities.


pages: 1,197 words: 304,245

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Commentariolus, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, germ theory of disease, Google X / Alphabet X, Hans Lippershey, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of the steam engine, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge economy, lone genius, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, placebo effect, QWERTY keyboard, Republic of Letters, spice trade, spinning jenny, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

But, of course, once animals have been claimed to be machines, it is a small step to arguing that human beings are also machines, and so to the adoption of a systematic materialism of a sort which would have been anathema to Gassendi, Descartes, Boyle and Newton. Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s Man the Machine (1748) is a logical development of this sort of uncompromising mechanistic thinking.24 The challenge set by Descartes was, of course, that of building an automaton that could behave like an animal. A hundred years later Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–82) made a mechanical duck which could walk, quack, eat and defecate.25 Descartes does not think of the universe as being like a clock because in his view outer space is filled not with the crystal spheres of Ptolemaic astronomy, nor with the gears and levers of de Caus’s machines, but with liquid vortices which carry the planets in their orbits around the stars.26 However, he does say that understanding the universe is comparable to the problem of understanding a clock.