Gakutensoku

My friend Jess Nevins, the extraordinary gentleman himself, offers up a history of Japanese robots and automata and the blasted gaijin who keep making off with them:

Japan’s first modern robot was created in 1928 by Makoto Nishimura, as part of the formal celebration of Emperor Showa’s (a.k.a. Hirohito) ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne. The robot, Gakutensoku (or “learning from natural law”), was 7’8″ tall, painted gold, could open and close its eyes, could smile, could puff out its cheeks, and at the beginning of each performance would touch its mace to its head and then begin to write.

How much do I want a 7’8″ gold Japanese robot called “learning from natural law”? RTWT, as they say, for a robot haiku by Kobayashi Issa*, an unscrupulous American magician, and intimations of occult robot conspiracy.

Speaking of occult conspiracy, Ken Hite showed once again why he is the king, picking up on the Paul Collins post I linked yesterday and spinning it into secret magical history gold:

[Collins:] In the U.S., for instance, the War Department struggled with mountains of haphazard medical files until the newly touted method of card filing was adopted in 1887. Hundreds of clerks transcribed personnel records dating back to the Revolutionary War. Housed in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC — the scene of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination a generation earlier — the initiative succeeded a little too well. Six years into the project, the combined weight of 30 million index cards led to information overload: three floors of the theatre collapsed, crushing 22 clerks to death.

[Hite:] Can anyone say Ascension of the Bureaucrat in 1894? Blood sacrifice to begin the Information Age? Creation of the “mass man” from data (which is to say, DNA) and crumpled flesh (of 22 people — where was the 23rd, necessary to complete the full chromosomal pairing?), intermingled on the blasphemous regicidal altar of America? The possibilities are limitless.

Do not fold, spindle, or sacrifice.

Also, there’s a nice link back to me today at Dug North’s excellent Automata blog. (Dug, I owe you an email.)

Edit: Engadget has video of a spiffed up Gakutensoku in action. (Hat tip to my man Sepoy.)

*Question: Would the great 18th century haiku master really use the word “coolness”? Answer: He would if he were writing about tea-serving robots!

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Barista » Blog Archive » as the floor collapses, teh robots swarm

  2. “It started to write characters smoothly in a flowing hand.”

    Jesus, a shodo-writin’ robot, his whole body must have been packed with RAM…

  3. Pingback: Infomancy

  4. Hello, Mr MacDougall. I came across the gakutensoku robot in Wikiepedea and your website after a search on Google.
    This thing is fascinating. My question is how a device that size could have gone missing just like that, especially in Germany, land of the ultra tight schedules.
    What is the history of this machine? How could it have gone missing? For being a robot eighty years old it should have turn up somewhere. Any clues?
    I’m just intrigued by this story. Can you give me any more information about it?
    Just curious.
    Andres Vidal

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