Go, go gadget Monkbot

Uh, oh – don’t look now, but it looks like we may be wrapping up the week with a theme: artificial life… as art.
Not long ago, we heard a story on the NPR show Radiolab that’s so uncanny it almost doesn’t seem true. It goes like this – in 1562, the 17-year-old crown prince of Spain, Don Carlos, fell down a flight of stairs and injured his head so badly it was doubtful he’d survive. His father, King Philip II, the most powerful man in the world at the time, promised that if God saved his son he’d repay him with a miracle of his own. (you can see this coming, right?) Shortly thereafter, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Don Carlos did indeed recover. In order to fulfill his oath King Philip commissioned a renowned clockmaker, Juanelo Turriano, to construct a miniature penitent homunculus – a monkbot. After 450 years, this thing is still in perfect working order at the Smithsonian Institution. Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. A gift from man to God, perhaps – but also an amazing work of skill and craftsmanship. And perhaps the world’s first robot?

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