The Restless Clock


(University of Chicago Press, 2017) by Jessica Riskin

An exploration into how the automata of early modern Europe can be seen as models for the new science of living things, tracing questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among others. The fascinating history of artificial life casts its net far into the past, including a mechanical defecating duck and flute player in eighteenth-century France, and into the present with the latest research on robots at MIT. With a natural storyteller's skill, Riskin lays bare central constraining metaphors and contradictions about machinery and agency that permeate modern evolutionary biology and artificial intelligence.

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