Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mechanical Marvels - Clockwork Dreams

Today on Far Future Horizons we present the BBC Documentary Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams hosted by Professor Simon Schaffer which charts the amazing and untold story of automata - extraordinary clockwork machines designed hundreds of years ago to mimic and recreate life.

Merlin the Silver Swan

This documentary film brings the past to life in vivid detail as we see how and why these masterpieces were built. Travelling around Europe, Simon uncovers the history of these machines and shows us some of the most spectacular examples, from an entire working automaton city to a small boy who can be programmed to write and even a device that can play chess. All the machines Simon visits show a level of technical sophistication and ambition that still amazes today.

Simon Schaffer with Merlin

As well as the automata, Simon explains in great detail the world in which they were made - the hardship of the workers who built them, their role in global trade and the industrial revolution and the eccentric designers who dreamt them up. Finally, Simon reveals that to us that these long-forgotten marriages of art and engineering are actually the ancestors of many of our most loved modern technologies, from recorded music to the cinema and much of the digital world.

After watching this documentary I encourage our readers to read Gaby Woods’s wonderfully written history of mechanical automata “Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life” which is available from Amazon Books in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Living Dolls looks at humanity's age-old obsession with moving dolls and speaking robots, intelligent machines and bionic men. It tells the remarkable story of men who wanted to play God - of the inventors and magicians who labored for centuries to simulate life mechanically.

Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

For your viewing pleasure allow me to refer you to previous documentaries posted here concerning Ancient Robots and the Antikythera Mechanism.

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