Friday, September 09, 2011

Oh, Yoshimi, they don't believe me, but you won't let those robots eat me

(click to activate The Embiggenator Bot)

From the creepiness of The Golem of Prague to the goofiness of Vaucanson's Digesting Duck, which ate kernels of corn and "digested" it, dispensing pre-loaded feces (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd be using) to the uncannily almost-human intelligence of The Turk, a chess-playing automaton, here's A Brief Visual History of Robots in a Matrix of Creepiness & Intelligence (hat tip to Janet Z. for the link!)

I took the Information Nation staff, aka Mrs. Captnkurt and Junior Staff Editors Sam (10) and Ben (8), to the Franklin Institute on a recent trip to Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute is a science and technology museum, and one of the coolest exhibits was their incredible Maillardet's Automaton.

Built around 1800 and donated to the museum in 1928, when the machine arrived it was not in working order and badly damaged from a fire. It was extensively repaired, with new legs and clothes built for it, though nowadays it is displayed partially disassembled so as to show off its inner mechanisms. However, it is still operational and is capable of producing four drawings and three poems. The secret lies in its mind-bogglingly intricate brass gears and cams, all handmade, which guide the movements of the head, eyes, arms and hands.

Click the pic above or here for more info and a couple of way cool videos of Maillardet's Automaton in action.

If you are a fan of shows such as This American Life, I think you would also dig the fantastic Radiolab, which explores big questions in science and philosophy in an engaging storytelling format.

A recent episode was on Talking To Machines, which explored, among other things, the unnerving ability of Furby, that plush robotic toy from the late 90s, to act almost like a living thing.

Hugo, a new Martin Scorsese film is coming out this year based upon the wonderful Young Adult graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The story takes place in Paris during the early part of the 20th century, where orphan Hugo Cabret secretly lives amongst the clockworks of a busy Paris train station. Before he died, his father gave him a mysterious broken automaton with a few secrets of its own.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink... by Warner-Music
What fighting evil robots has to do with some sort of Japanese eating contest(?) is beyond me, but I've always been partial to this song.

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