Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In praise of... Pierre Jaquet-Droz

The Writer
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a Swiss born watch and automata maker who died in 1790. His automata are machines of exquisite beauty and ingenuity; one The Writer had over 6,000 components. Wikipedia states that, "Some consider these devices to be the oldest examples of the computer. The Writer has an input device to set tabs that form a programmable memory, 40 cams that represents the read only program, and a quill pen for output. The work of Pierre Jaquet-Droz predates that of Charles Babbage by decades." If you've seen the excellent recent movie Hugo you'll have a good idea what this machine can do. 
    Of course course no scientist, or natural philosopher as they were then called, would have taken these machine seriously, as they were mere amusements for the wealthy. Yet, we can assume that Charles Babbage would have been intrigued, and even he considered building fairground automata that played games for a time.
    The following video is one of a series that showcases the remarkable work of Pierre Jaquet-Droz.