The Writer as the drawing boy automata is called, was built in the 1770s by Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz with help from his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. Mincing no words, it is one magnificent and spectacular piece, and probably a computer way ahead of its time. The Writer looks like a small boy seated on a desk with a quill in his hands. Inside the body, are 6000 custom made parts that are designed to get the custom-made writing machine to work.
If the idea looks familiar, that is because The Writer was the inspiration for the wonderful automaton in the 2011 movie Hugo. Making that connection isn’t so difficult once you see The Writer in action, and it actually makes the little boy automaton all the more impressive.
Considering Jaquet-Droz was able to build this very complex and programmable piece way before the advent of modern design and technology, puts things into perspective. For comparison, the Steam Engine would be patented in 1781, and Charles Babbage designed the famous Difference Engine in the 1820s.
The videos you see here are from BBC Four’s documentary Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams hosted by Professor Simon Schaffer.