I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam.
–Charles Babbage, 19th-century inventor
Intrigued by the changes being wrought by science, the poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley idled away one rainy summer day in Switzerland discussing artificial life and artificial thought, wondering whether “the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.” On hand to take mental notes of their conversation was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Percy’s wife and author of the novel Frankenstein. She expanded on the theme of artificial life in her famous novel.
Mary Shelley’s monster presented a genuinely disturbing allegory to readers of the Steam Age. The early part of the 19th ...