Joern Zehe - 3 grid projections
20.01.-10.02.2006
Introductory text: Jutta Weber

"Es ist wahrhaft ergetzlich, die Fertigkeit zu sehen, mit welcher der Kleine seine Zeichnung beginnt, in der Arbeit absetzt, dieselbe pruefend von allen Seiten ueberschaut, dann wieder beginnt,(...) und nun die Zeichnung ausfuehrt."i (It is truly enchanting to see the ability with which the little one starts his drawing, stops in his work which he then overlooks inquisitively from all sides, then starts anew, (....) and now carries out his drawing." i With these words the Illustrierte Zeitung described a drawing automaton in 1846, which was invented by the genius handicraftsman Pierre Jacquet Droz in the middle of the 18th century. According to an old dictionary ii : his "machines which imitate movement and actions of living beings" caused emense uproar in those days. They were so perfect that in Spain the inventor was even going to be tried in court because of witchcraft.  The spectators were also enchanted by automatons by the Hungarian baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. Besides of his meticulous speeking machines especially his chess playing Turk gained worldwide fame, an automaton that could do all the tricks and knacks of chess like a professional. iii

200 years ago the development of machine humans was the most fascinating technic had to offer. The generell public was as much captivated by the automatons as the highest society. At court they were presented exclusivly, at other places there were long queues to admire the miracle works of technic and to uncover their secrets. At this time the believe in the possibility to create artificial humans was more than just the actualization of an old dream of humankind and the idea of the
automatoi, intelligent tools, which serve the gods as well as slaves and compulsory workers passed on by Aristoteles. Rather the meaning of the automatons explains itself by their modell-like function for the understanding of the world of the 18th century. In them the mechanistic tendencies of rationalism and materialism were represented, as they have been formulated before by RenÚ Descartes and then especially also the philosopher Julien Offray de la Mettrie in his radical text L'homme machine from 1748. De la Mettrie found his view of humans that work, think and function like machines con firmed in the automatons which draw, speak and play chess rationally like humans.iv
But also such human-machine phantasies gave much subject-matter for criticism. Already 1789 for example Jean Paul, poet and excellent connoisseur of the modern development of technic, cartooned the automatons in his "Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren" (selection of the devil's papers) as symbols of the  mechanical and materialistic view of the world which negates the human free will completely, which he despised.v With a side swipe at Kempeles Turks he polemicly described human beings themselves as will-less dumb machines of the angels, which Kempele is said to have solely copied:
"Ein Engel.......nachkopieren zu koennen". ("an angel also produced (...) wonderful chess machines (...), which can play chess without any action on behalf of an angel, only by a mechanism, placed in their heads; they move the right arm by itself, they even shake - this is outrageous - their head at the occurance of a wrong move by their opponent and when the king is chess-mate they won't do one more move for anything in the world. The reader will easily perceive the similarity of these chess machines to the well-known one which was invented by
H. v. Kempele and which is well admired...H. v. Kempele was so happy to be abke to orientate himself at living chess machines (...) and copy those."vi


The automatons encouraged not only Jean Paul but also other contemporaries to critizise insipid machine-like rulers and subjects, to tackle sceptically with the present and to gloomy speculations about the future. And so their commentaries about the machine humans read as a astonishingly farsighted anticipation of the situation in the 21th century.


Where 200 years ago mechanical automatons fascinated the spectators today programmed robots make the masses happy. They are on an odyssÚ in space, in the industry they guide huge workshops, as service labourers they run whole households,
Robodoc is putting in artificial hips, Care-O-bot cares for grannies and in childrens' rooms tamagotchis, Furbis and Aibos bustle about.
And also thinking is happily taken over from humans by machines.

next
back