They Had Androids in the Enlightenment?

November 29, 2015

Androids may seem like a modern idea, but there were life-size androids in the 18th century - beautiful robot women who could look around and even play the harpsichord. Historian Heidi Voskuhl tells this remarkable story.






Watch a short film featuring many of Pierre Jaquet Droz's 18th century automatons. You'll find the harpsichord playing android discussed in the interview about 6 minutes and 30 seconds into the video.




This was a fascinating part of the program this week. I had only a dim memory of reading about this in the past-- I'm going to get the book. I tried to play the film to take a look, but it doesn't work for some reason. I listen to the program frequently, and find it a great source of knowledge about important topics, most of the time. I teach a music history course at Berkeley Adult School (Berkeley Cal) and I'm going to use this material for the course. Keep up the good work!

These early automatons are fascinating; state-of-the-art engineering, they were. Your report was intriguing and led me to this site to view these creations. The automaton in the video that was also discussed in the interview plays what appears to be a harmonium--a sort of pipe organ--rather than the plucked string harpsichord this reader was anticipating. A small detail. Thank you for sharing this story.