automata. There is also a persistent story that he took a clockwork “daughter” with him on a sea voyage to Sweden. She was supposedly made to replace his real daughter who, in the great tragedy of his life, had died at age five, much as the fictional Rotwang made his female robot to replace the lost Hel in Metropolis.
Descartes’s philosophical views were not universally accepted, of course. One contrary position held that animals are superior to hu- mans because they are more natural. But the idea of“man as machine” was taken up by others during the Enlightenment, most spectacularly by the French physician Julien Offroy de La Mettrie. His extremely atheistic and materialistic position was so poorly received in France that he fled to Holland.There, his book L’Homme Machine (translated as Man a Machine but literally, “The Man-Machine”), published in 1747, was seized by the Church to be burned. (He fled again, this time to Prussia, where he became court physician to Frederick the Great.) Nevertheless, with the support of other Enlightenment fig- ures, the mechanical view flourished and the power of scientific ma- terialism grew. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Dutch physiologist and philosopher Jakob Moleschott could express a materialistic ap- proach to living phenomena by insisting on “scientific answers to scientific questions.”
Whatever the philosophers’ opinion, so remarkable were the achievements of eighteenth-century makers of clockwork automata that they might be excused if they believed that “man is a machine.” Two of the most famous automata makers were contemporaries: the Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson, born 1709, and the Swiss Pierre Jaquet-Droz, born 12 years later. Along with his son, Jaquet-Droz created automata that even today seem marvelous. In 1774, he made a “life-sized and lifelike figure of a boy seated at a desk, capable of writing up to [any] forty letters [of the alphabet],” which can still be seen in operation in the History Museum in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Another artificial boy he created could draw four different pictures.
DeVaucanson was known for his automaton musicians,completed when he was 18. As related in Bruce Mazlish’s article “The Man- Machine and Artificial Intelligence,” these included