something hopeful in this intersection of our inescapable animal-like needs with technological cleanliness.
De Vaucanson’s efforts influenced the science of artificial beings in another way by contributing to modern computation. In apprecia- tion of his mechanical genius, Louis XV named him director of the royal silk enterprise,in which position he invented an automated loom that used a cylindrical arrangement of punched holes to set the wo- ven pattern. It was later refined in the Jacquard loom of 1801 that used punched cards—direct forerunners of punched computer cards. (De Vaucanson was recognized in his time by Voltaire and de La Mettrie, both of whom called him a “new Prometheus.” He also ap- pears in the painting Une Soirée chez Madame Geoffrin, en 1755 by Anicet-Charles-Gabriel Lemonnier, which has been called the “Smile of the Enlightenment.” It shows deVaucanson as one of 50 luminaries in an imaginary gathering includingVoltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot.)
Both the cleverness and the limitations of mechanical people are apparent in the automaton said to have the largest capacity of any such device, presented in 1928 to the Franklin Institute in Philadel- phia.This “Draughtsman-Writer” is a figure seated at a desk.When its springs are wound up, it moves its head down as if looking at a sheet of paper.Then its right arm, grasping a pen, inscribes two poems in French, one in English, and four elaborate drawings, including a sail- ing ship and a pagoda-like Chinese structure, while at the same time its eyes and left arm move.
The figure was damaged in the 1850s in a fire at a Philadelphia museum operated by the showman P.T. Barnum. Once restored to operating condition at the Franklin Institute, it revealed the name of its maker in the margin of its last drawing, where it wrote “Ecrit par L’Automate de Maillardet,” that is, “Written by the Automaton of Maillardet.” Henri Maillardet had worked with Jaquet-Droz and built this automaton around 1800. He made another one for George III of England that wrote in Chinese, as a gift for the Emperor of China.
This device celebrates the ingenuity of the eighteenth-century clockmakers, and also shows that clockwork could not provide the capacity and flexibility that are essential components of intelligence. The “Draughtsman-Writer” requires 250 pounds of brass, metal, and