It's interesting how artificial intelligence is dominating the headlines. Society once again is awestruck that machines, mechina, can “simulate intelligence” and act like they are alive. It comes off like magic inside a box or a ghost in a machine. As a Battlestar Galactica fan I got to thinking; has this all happened before and shall it all happen again? Was there ever an analog artificial intelligence? On this episode, I explore the closest thing I can think of to an analog AI or mechina intelligence.
As a technologist, it is easy to jump back to Ada Lovelace and the analytical engine, the concept for the beginning of computer programming. But I want to go back even further and arguably deeper. Looking at the ancient world of automata machines, devices that run off their own mechanical power, these mechina could simulate life.
These centuries-old technologies were once some of the best artisanal technology in existence. Many of the concepts that constructed those automata are closely linked to the art and science of horology.
On this episode, meet Brittany “Nico” Cox of Vashon Island here in Washington State. She's is an Antiquarian Horoglogist and owner of Memoria Technica. Nico specializes in the conservation and restoration of antique automata, mechanical musical objects, complicated clocks and watches, and, perhaps her favorite mechina of singing bird objects.
If there was ever an analog artificial intelligence, then Nico's specialized craft in horology and automata is probably the closest thing to it that I'll find. What did civilizations think hundreds of years ago when these technological artisans created this mechina intelligence? Perhaps a better question is, in today's horology, is there still a place for mechinca automata?
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AE 17 Reference Notes
Antiquarian Horologist. Brittany Nicole Cox | Memoria Technica
Great Big Story - A Craft of Future Past: Mastering Antiquarian Horology
Horological Society of New York - Horological Conservation A Study of Bellows Materials in Smoking Automata, by Brittany Nicole Cox
The Silver Swan automaton | Barnard Castle, England
The Coburg Ivories
Engine Turning | Ornamental Turning
Modern Automaton makers
Vancleef and Arpels
François Junod - automaton maker in Switzizerland
What is an Antiquarian Horologist?
Mechanical Bird automaton
Quill & Pad
Toledo Museum of Art