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Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

Mon Jun 3, 9-10pm, BBC4

By Adam Lee Davies
According to many futurists, the technological singularity – the moment when our computers and gadgets will be sufficiently advanced to achieve sentience and (possibly) go on a Terminator-style mecha-rampage – is soon to be upon us.

Here, Professor Simon Schaffer resets the dials to offer a potted history of our relationship with clockwork automata that began with the humanistic adornments to the town clock in Bern, Switzerland, 500 years ago. It’s a curious journey that takes in Victorian fakery, rollerskating geniuses and the surprising but credibly presented role that these animated confections played in the build-up to the French Revolution.

Schaffer – as regular listeners to Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ will attest – can be a somewhat doleful presence, and doesn’t exactly keep things zipping along, but he presents the information clearly and concisely, and the surviving automata he shows off are true marvels.

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