mh1The subject is missing. If it is a fault in the original text, fixit within the brackets. “Eighteenth-Century Wetware,” while in Europeautomata affected “people’s assumptions about what is essential to life andwhat is within the purview of machinery have continually transformed each other,”the Japanese Karakuri (image 2.2) from the fact that high but imperfect levels ofsimilitude actually interfere with our ability to project bodily attributesonto non-bodies” (77). While we easily identify with a stick-figure (whichserves as an analogy or a metaphor) without threatening our identity, a robotwhich closely but imperfectly imitates human behavior fills us with anxiety. Ofcourse the response is different in different cultures, as Riskin points out inmh1 Black pointsto Masahiro Mori’s principle of “uncanny Valley,” which basically states that “upto a point, there is a decrease in our level of identification with simulatedbodies as their level of realism increases, resultsMany attempts at building life-like automata such as Vaucanson’s”defecating duck” (image 2.1), according to Jessica Riskin, were simplyattempts at showmanship, “reproducing” physiology, or creating an “illusion” (“DefecatingDuck,” 609-12). Taking the body as an ideal, no matter how hard the engineertries to replicate the physiologic processes the machine is doomed to fallshort.
This has always been a source of self-flattery in humans, consideringthat interaction with machines has always been an important factor in howhumans have thought about themselves and their bodies. What would happen toour perception of ourselves, if the mechanisms built by us as comic versions ofourselves and set to the impossible task of imitating human behavior only tofail and boost our own self-confidence, were to beat us at our own game?While it is quite understandable why humans would see machines as a threat,many seem to be afraid of machines for the wrong reasons. Much of this fear canbe analogized as the fear of a father of a fast-growing and strong son, or thefear of a teacher from an outstanding and over-ambitious student. The problemhere is that in these familiar cases, the new entity belongs to the samespecies as the older one. In the case of machines, on the other hand, themechanism belongs to a completely different species. It is true that there hasbeen a long history of seeing the body as a machine, but as Black shrewdlyobserves, this arises from the fact that humans have a tendency toanthropomorphize everything, building their creations in their own image. It isnot the case that the lungs work like bellows, and the muscles work likepulleys.
Quite on the contrary, as bellows and pulleys were made to replacelungs and muscles, they work in similar ways, which leads to the similar errorof trying to describe body processes such as mental processes using computermodels (72). The early Newtonian universe machines hardly posed threats, asthey relied on the weak muscles of humans for their function, but with the riseof the nineteenth century motor-powered engine, the machine found a soul whichpowered it from within, independent of human control. As Anson Rabinbach puts it, “the body, thesteam engine, and the cosmos were thus connected by a single and unbroken chainof energy” (52).