Our Love of Robots Begins With a Pooping Duck


Though it may seem to be a modern conceit, our fascination with lifelike automatons is actually centuries old and features at least one pooping duck.

Every day, we move one step closer to replicant-esque robots that can pass as human. But as Jim Rossignol explains in Issue 225 of The Escapist, clever inventors have been crafting lifelike automatons for quite some time. French engineer Jacques de Vaucanson was particularly adept at creating machines that were startlingly real:

Even more famously, Vaucanson created a duck which appeared to eat and then defecate. Although the digestion was actually an illusion, many people considered the creature his masterpiece, given its astonishingly lifelike behavior. Its resemblance to a biological duck was the most significant aspect of Vaucanson’s achievement, making it something akin to a magic trick; the onlookers who cooed and wowed at his work wanted to be fooled. And it was easily done: We are predisposed to behave towards something that appears to be alive as if it really is alive. The mere fact that the duck seemed lifelike was enough to grant Vaucanson fame centuries after his death.

I can’t decide if truly lifelike robots would be marvelous or disturbing. Read the rest of A Brief History of Artificial Life and let us know where you stand on the matter.

About the author