Wednesday, December 01, 2004

that duck

Vaucanson's Duck

From The Guitarist Is Metal. No, Not Heavy Metal by Michael Beckerman, New York Times, 30 November 2004:
GuitarBot claims its ancestor not in the golem - which, after all, has decidedly human characteristics - but in the ingenious automated machines of the last three centuries. In the mid-18th century, the Maillardet brothers created an astonishing writer-draftsman that could write poetry and do amazing drawings of ships and buildings. Around the same time, Jacques de Vaucanson created his famous defecating duck, which could eat, digest and all the rest. He also created a flute-playing android, which offered 12 tunes, perhaps an ancestor of the robot that recently conducted Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo. While audiences may be titillated by the prospect of seeing such devices and their descendants do "human" things, Mr. Singer and Mr. Adamson have something else in mind. Mr. Adamson, in particular, is more concerned with technical issues and the ability of machines to do things that humans cannot accomplish.

Mason & Dixon, p. 374:
"Agreed, you must consider how best to defend yourself,-- wear clothing it cannot bite through, leather, or what's even more secure, chain-mail,-- its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite qable, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut.… One may cower within, but one cannot avoid,-- le Bec de la Mort, the…'Beak of Death.'"