Evolution Of Human-Like Robots: Part 3 Karakuri Puppets & The Turk

in steemstem •  3 months ago


This is part 3 of my mini series regarding humanoid robots and their history. In part one which you can click here we learned about the attempts of human like robots in the ancient world. Countries like Greece & China managed to do a lot more than we think with marvelous creations like the Human Servant and the Cosmic Engine

After that we went a little bit further in years and met with Leonardo Da Vinci along with his mechanical knight and Jacques de Vaucanson with his Flute Player and Digesting Duck. You can check part 2 by clicking here

Now the time has come for the famous humanoid chess player named ''The Turk" as well as the Japanese Karakuri. The era that all of these creations were made is the 17-19 century and more specifically the Karakuri are made even now.

The Karakuri Puppets

 "View of Edo" Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author  Marku1988  : Licence:Public Domain

The beginning of the Karakuri Puppets was during the Edo period (1603-1868). The Japanese mainly were influenced by the ancient China which was far ahead in these things as we saw in part 1 but they also influenced by the westerners as a result of the trading. 

The word Karakuri means "mechanisms" or "trick" and there are 2 different types of Karakuri Puppets as seen below:

  • Butai Karakuri
  • Zaskiki Karakuri
  • Dashi Karakuri

Butai Karakuri

The Butai Karakuri puppets were used in Theater purely for entertainment. During 1662 Takeda Omi a clock maker made the first Karakuri show and soon enough he became extremely famous. After 12 years at 1674 he gave the theater and therefore the show to his brother and way later Takeda Omi the third took over.

 Three pictures of the same nō 'hawk mask' showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. The mask was afixed to a wall with constant lighting and only the camera moved. Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author Wmpearl  : Licence:Public Domain

At 1741 the karakuri show was considered one of the most known in Edo (Tokyo).  In order to understand the success it had, it was already booked for the next 2-3 days. During 1772 all the theaters had closed down but its legacy remained even now. 

What i mean by this is that the impact was so big especially if you think that the show was one of the best if not the best for 100 years, that the Japanese theatrical world couldn't forget it. The majority of the written plays were for puppet performances and the actors had to play and look like puppets. They tried not to show any feelings with their face(they had masks most of the times that looked like the puppets) but with their gestures and moves. Even now the Japanese theater is influenced by the Karakuri.

If you pay attention in the picture above you will see how the theater is tied with the puppets and how people actually imitate the Butai Karakuri Puppets.

Dashi Karakuri

Dashi Karakuri puppets have a similar use with the Butai ones cause they were used for events. The difference is that they were used for religious events. They had huge floats with 3 desks, the upper one had the puppets, below there was the puppeteers and at the end the musicians who played the appropriate music.

A float Dashi Karakuri March Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author Bariston : Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

Marching these floats around the cities meant prosperity and prayers for the families and in general the city. It's really amazing the fact that over 5000 floats are currently in Japan meaning that the whole idea remained till now!

Zashiki Karakuri

Finally the Zaskiki Karakuri puppets were used for domestic purposes and during the Edo period it was a sign of luxury and wealth. Among the different types of Karakuri puppets this one is considered the most technically advanced. The most famous one was the Tea Serving Dolls.

 Japanese Karakuri, circa 1800  Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author PHGCOM: Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

These ''dolls'' hold a tray in which anyone could place his/her teacup and then ''magic happened''. Imagine that a friend comes into your house and you make tea for him. You place the Karakuri puppet in the middle of you and him, place the teacup and then the doll moves to your friend. When your friend takes the teacup then the doll do nothing and wait.

If then you place your empty teacup in the tray it turns around and goes back to you. The whole mechanism behind the doll is a rotating cam as well as multiple strings. After a while they made a bunch of different Karakuri dolls with a famous one being the "Archer" that could pick and fire 4 arrows one by one to a target nearby! 

Karakuri  doll: Archer Source: flickr - Author bunny hero: Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

The Turk

Ok let's be clear from the start. That humanoid was more like an illusion than an actual automaton. His creator was Wolfgang von Kempelen a Hungarian author and inventor that was influenced by an illusionist and promised to come to Maria Theresa with his own invention and impress her.

 Photo of the reconstruction of the Turk, the a chess-playing automaton designed by Kempelen Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author Carafe : Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

So during 1770 he presents his automaton named the "Chess Player" or as it is more known "The Turk" to Maria Theresa. The Turk was an "automaton" that looked like a Turk, with traditional clothes of the Ottoman empire, a big mustache, a turban who sat in a chair that was next to a table with a chessboard.

Cabinet's inside Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author(uploader) Schaelss : Licence:Public Domain

The creator then challenged everyone who wanted to participate and play against his automaton but firstly he opened the table below in order for anyone to see that is full of gears and mechanical stuff and not something tricky like a person.

After the person sat and the game started the Turk moved it's head in order to check what piece he gonna move and with his left arm he grabbed the piece and place it in a specific spot. The Turk was so good at chess that won most of the times against many skillful players.

 Turk-engraving-figure Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author: Unkown  Licence:Public Domain

Because of that achievement many people started to write and wonder about how he is doing this. Some believed that they reached that level of technological advancement while other doubted The Turk and believed that somehow the creator cheated them by putting a small child or a midget that were extremely skillful at chess inside the table but couldn't prove it as he always opened the cabinet placed candles inside and showed to everyone.

Ofc in reality it was a clever trick that Wolfgang had though and required a concealed person who controlled everything by the inside, having a board of its own and controlled the movements of the arm and head. Also note that the candle was actually for him in order to see in the darkness (pretty clever right?). Also the inventor found a bunch of different chess players and recruited them in order to be the next Turk operator.

 The Turkish Chess Player Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author Wolfgang von Kempelen : Licence:Public Domain


After reading you may ask yourself "Most of these were just puppets or tricks, they were of no use" but it's little more complicated. Except the fact that a lot of these human like machines like the Karakuri Archer and Tea Servant were actual automaton with no human manipulation, all of them had a huge impact.

The impact that all of these had was to make other people create new ideas and evolve the robotics as well as built a significant part of their culture around that. We saw that Karakuri puppets influenced deeply Japan's art with the theatrical stage to have a lot of traits that remained even now. 

Source: commons.wikipedia.org - Author Bariston : Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

Also note and this is my speculation and my opinion that because of the fact that they Karakuri puppets for their homes and to perform simple tasks like giving the tea to the guest, that buried deep inside them and everyone considered of the robots as something ordinary and a must have at their houses. Thus, with year passing Japan is one of the top countries regarding robotics and i think that is exactly because of what i mentioned above, which is that from way too many years ago they though of robots as part of their history,culture and everyday life.

Regarding the Turk which was a tricky invention that created a lot of controversy around it but still managed to open a new era to "magic" and illusion as well as robotics. The Turk may have been on of the most influential automatons and that is because it made a lot of smart people of that age as well as the new ones that came to think and challenge themselves into making a machine that could actually challenge the players and thus AI was seen unwillingly in the horizon 

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Those are some scary looking puppets lol.

And the turk is a really clever trick, the inventor must have a lot of time in his hands.

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