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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Kelly

I for one welcome our new computer overlords…

source

In the aftermath of Watson’s triumph over humanity’s best, your correspondent thought it wise to remind readers (and himself) that this is not the first time that we mortals have faced the onslaught of astounding new technology.

The good folks at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled a nifty through-the-ages recap of attempts to create “life” in new-fangled ways; from Leonardo’s “robot” and John Dee’s “flying beetle” to an “steam-powered hiker” and an “electric milk man” from Victorian England, there’s quite a selection in “Amazing Automatons: Ancient Robots & Victorian Androids.”

It’s all fascinating; but the sweet spot is surely the selection of creations from the 18th (and early 19th) centuries, when the then-highly-developed crafts of metal working and watchmaking were turned to automata.  Consider, for example…

Jacques Vaucason created numerous working figures, including a flute player, which actually played the instrument, in 1738, plus this duck from 1739. The gilded copper bird could sit, stand, splash around in water, quack and even give the impression of eating food and digesting it.

Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automata, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct pictures, while the Writer dips his pen in the ink and can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

More, at Dark Roasted Blend.

As we remind ourselves to re-read Kevin Kelly’s excellent What Technology Wants and then to retake the Turing Test, we might stage a dramatic memorial dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  He opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes. MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity. And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats. In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

Steele MacKaye

Leading horses to water…

… and making them drink:

from Spiked Math.

On a more serious note… many are skeptical of “the Singularity”– the hypothetical point at which technological progress will have accelerated so much that the future becomes fundamentally unpredictable and qualitatively different from what’s gone before (click here for a transcript of the talk by Vernor Vinge that launched the concept, and here for a peek at what’s become of Vernor’s initial thinking).  But even those with doubts (among whom your correspondent numbers) acknowledge that technology is re-weaving the very fabric of life.  Readers interested in a better understanding of what’s afoot and where it might lead will appreciate Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants (and the continuing discussion on Kevin’s site).

As we re-set our multiplication tables, we might recall that it was on this date in 1664 that natural philosopher, architect and pioneer of the Scientific Revolution Robert Hooke showed an advance copy of his book Micrographia– a chronicle of Hooke’s observations through various lens– to members of the Royal Society.  The volume (which coined the word “cell” in a biological context) went on to become the first scientific best-seller, and inspired broad interest in the new science of microscopy.

source: Cal Tech

UPDATE: Reader JR notes that the image above is of an edition of Micrographia dated 1665.  Indeed, while (per the almanac entry above) the text was previewed to the Royal Society in 1664 (to wit the letter, verso), the book wasn’t published until September, 1665.  JR remarks as well that Micrographia is in English (while most scientific books of that time were still in Latin)– a fact that no doubt contributed to its best-seller status.

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