A New Trivium and Quadrivium

Stephenson's_Rocket

Representations of automata bring together the arts with technology, and computing with modeling and simulation. A broader topic is the structure of the academy (i.e., our present system of education) and how this system supports areas such as automata. George Bugliarello, former president of Sigma Xi and Polytechnic Institute of New York University, wrote a very good article on what sometimes divides us and what might help unite us as we improve integration of the arts and humanities with engineering. I particularly like this passage:

"Recently, with structural art—e.g., the view of a bridge also as a work of art (Billington)—and with the growing commercial importance of aesthetics in automobiles and other functional artifacts, the time is ripe in engineering for a renewed appreciation of aesthetics. Unfortunately, in the required curriculum of our engineering schools, not a single course deals with taste, aesthetics or style. Neither, for that matter, do arts curricula focus on the kinship of art and engineering as modifiers of nature. The consequence is, much too often, human-made environments with no emotional impact, that can benumb, rather than inspire."

Automata are, after all, machines whether they are made out of virtual or physical materials. They can be beautiful works of art regardless of their capacity to play a functional, utilitarian role.