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Closeup of woman's hands holding windup toy, selective focus

Before Digital: The World’s Most Amazing Windup Toys

Before electronics, there was mechanics — and it’s amazing what human ingenuity can do with a simple windup mechanism

Windup toys were what we had before we had electricity and robotics. Some very elaborate ones were designed by clockmakers, starting in the late sixteenth century. Most of these clever clockworks, if they survived at all, survive only as faithful replicas. In order of approximate dates, here are some that did — remarkable testimonies to human skill, artistry, and cleverness: 1560s: One of the earliest is a mechanical monk: “The lore surrounding the monk is that King Philip II, son of Charles V, commissioned [clockmaker Juanelo] Turriano to create the penitent automaton after Philip’s son had recovered from a deathly illness. The king of Spain had prayed for his son’s recovery, promising a miracle for a miracle, and this machine…

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A boy's doll face

Astonishing Windup Robots Still Work, Centuries Later

New science discoveries prompted our ancestors to ask, how much can we make them do?

Eighteenth-century Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721–1790) is remembered today for his workshop's “humanoid automata” or robots, the Draftsman, the Musician, and the Writer.

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Building a better future

“Artificial” Artificial Intelligence

What happens when AI needs a human I?

Artificial intelligence often fails at crucial points. It must then be supplemented by human intelligence. Many software systems that look to their users like pure advanced artificial intelligence hide a lot of human effort behind a technological mask.

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