Ancient Automata: The Magic of the Mechanical Realm and Machines Brought to Life

When the dark magician was wheeled out before the audience—with an eerie and inscrutable expression on his face, and dressed in mystical robes and bejeweled turban—a hush fell over the court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. It was 1770, and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen boasted that no human would be able to defeat the magician at his game: chess.

This seemed an incredible claim, as the magician clearly had no brain. The magician was not human, but a construction; a prop in man’s clothing. Lifeless and still, it had a human-looking head and torso, a black beard, and was...Read more