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Automaton, automatic

The Jaquet-Droz drawer. Not digital yet, but a summit among mechanical automata.

Last revised 9/5/2014. Return to Major concepts. See also autonomy, robot.

An automaton is a kind or being. Finite state automata are defined by the classical functions I = f(I,E) and (possibly) O = g (I,E).

- Art, digital or not, uses frequently couples of automata:
. camera/projector for cinema,
. recorder/sono for sound and music,
. emitter/receiver for broadcast and networks of any type,
. server/browser for the web.
But some automata work alone: printing presses, for example.
(In electronic music, to automate a parameter is to assign it a value curve that the parameter will faithfully follow, in real time, during the reading. )

1. Device animated by a motor

Most of these automata a just fun for showcases. Other ones are, at the same time, woks of arts and nearly scientific constructions (at least, related to their period). Up to the computer emergence, they generally cannot be properly considered digital, but they are predigital by their autonomy. Since the 1970's, automated let the spot to robots.

Among the most important and visible automata, pre-digital:
- Vaucanson. Musée des automates in Grenoble
- Jaquet-Droz. Neuchatel museum.
- Fonséranes Christ crib, near Béziers
- Ganesh religious automata in Bombay. Read Dieux et robots. Les théâtres d’automates divins de Bombay. by Emmanuel Grimaud.   L’archange minotaure, 2008. The models described here do not use computers. But since his survey, very probalby some of them are digital.
- The astronomical clocks (these automata are really digital, but not binary)/:
- (History) read the items Automates (and Automatia, automatie, automatique, automatisation, automatiser, automatisme, automatiste, automaturge) in Nouveau Larousse Illustré (vers 1900).
< Elsa Triolet: L'âme, by Elsa Triolet. Gallimard 1963. A fascinating novel about automata fans and their different profiles.

2.Device or machine operating an imposed program

- Reference book, for the mathematical aspects : Eléments de théorie des automates, by Jacques Sakarovitch. Vuibert 2003. SH No 10 (biblio). Purely theoretical, and not satisfactory from an artistic point. Paradoxically: no autonomy concept.
< Machines de Turing et automates cellulaires. by Charles Corge. Ellipses 2008. Effective presentation.
- (Music) storage of a set of commands about a volume, a panoramic or another effect. (Daniel Ichbiah, Sonar Cakewalk, Campus Press 2002).
- Website of Les automates intelligents. Art index, with notably a note about the Jaquet-Droz musician.
- Automatisation et travail : utopies, réalités, débats des années cinquante aux années quatre-vingt-dix! par Christian du Tertre et Giancarlo Santilli. Puf , 1992.

3. Notes of critic

The word "automaton" has< connotations both positive and negative.
In the positive side : automatic writing by Surrealists, muscular automtisms necessary to many artistic activities, specially performance.
On the negative side : reduction of human behaviors to automatisms ("he walked like an automaton). See reductionism.
- "Le cinéma considéré comme psychomécanique, ou automate spirituel, se réfléchit dans son propre contenu, ses thèmes, ses situations, ses personnages " (Deleuze, Cinéma 2. p. 343).

< L'homme fabriqué. Récits de la création de l'homme par l'homme. by Jean-Paul Engélibert. Garnier 2000. This book reprints (in French) the major texs about robots: Tales by Shelley (Mary), Poe, Barbara, Bierce, Schropp, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Wells, Panizza, Capek, Huxley , Glish and Carter, with and introduction and presentations by J.P.Engélibert, and extracts from Ovidus, Descartes, La Mettrie, Baudelaire and Truong).




Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.




Galerie Charlot An important supporter of digital art.