About automata I obsess,
Although this I do confess,

I knew nothing about them,
until Scorsese’s enchanting go,
at Brian Selznick’s Hugo.

Hugo sought a heart shaped
key, to let his automaton,
be that which he was meant to be.
I sought beauty and artistry
and an afternoon tinged
with a hint of mystery.

Scorsese, blessed by Mesmer,
cast a spell, and delivered,
as he carved out voids,
and filled them with dreams,
and an arc of resolution,
tailored and trimmed,
for our consumption.

This fiction spun alive
every dust-ridden archive,
and museum basement,
revealing abandoned and
creaky inanimates – worn,
broken, yet concealing,
logic and precision.

Our own Morris Museum,
set up displays when they
obtained some and news
reports showed wide-eyed
kids, each one a forty eight
inch bundle of wonder, awe
and fascination.

Their robot puppies didn’t
do the trick, their walking,
talking and peeing dolls
fell woefully short, against
a smiling figure that could
enchant while writing,
sketching or playing ball.

Renaissance creations
from Parisian courts,
with elegant vetements
and a hint of a soul –
What made them tug
at heartstrings, like no
robots ever could?


I find automatons fascinating.  There is poetry around them, they are ancient attempts at the secrets of the soul.  I find our obsession with creation, especially when we make successive, iterative, evolving attempts at assembling something that can be like us without emerging from a womb.

I was building on a conversation with my daughter, often my muse, and I mentioned to her that perhaps we come close but never simulate humanity in its entirety because we never program irrationality or impulse or impetuousness or the times when we do something that defies all expectations and all paths that would be considered logical, meaningful or rational, in other words the eternal Spock vs Kirk debate.

Can one work irrationality into the complex internal mechanisms of an ancient automaton or a futuristic android? Who knows! But for now my daughter concurred that we made more irrational decisions than rational ones as humans.

Illustration: Anoushka Thakur

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