Europe in the mid to late 18th century was not as backwards as some people may believe. In fact, much of the developed world was at a point of incredible intellectual advancement. In Switzerland, for example, a man named Jaquet Droz and his team were building real, honest-to-HAL robots. They didn’t call them that back then, but these automaton androids were incredibly advanced even by today’s standards.
Most of them were built to dazzle the incredibly rich who would then fork over money and commission their creators to build more such splendid automated objects. Though highly advanced androids such as Jaquet Droz’s “The Writer” were not for sale – as they only existed to tease kings and high lords, many made their way into private collections and one has been reanimated for the first time in Switzerland by the Swatch Group.
The Writer, shown above, is a fully mechanical little boy who sits at a desk and writes out complete phrases using a quill and ink. It was the inspiration for the machine in the movie Hugo. The head and eyes even move with the writing hand and, although in operation the machine sounds a bit like a typewriter, it’s an amazing feat of mechanical design. Two other existing Jaquet Droz automatons are called The Draftsman and The Pianist. They are on display in Switzerland and even at over 200 years old they still impress.