Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 114

Not a Thinking Machine

Nature, Vol XVIII, October 10, 1878, p. 630.

M. BOUILLAUD, the once celebrated medical practitioner, who is a member of the Paris Academy of Sciences, assailed M. du Moncel in the sitting of September 30, and asserted that the phonograph and microphone experiments must be the work of ventriloquists.  This fit of incredulity was occasioned by the recital of experiments made with the singing conductors.  M. du Moncel asked for a commission of investigation to be appointed, although such accusations are not deserving of any notice, and have, indeed, raised universal ridicule.  But the regulations of the Academy forbid any commission to be appointed to pronounce on the works or communications of members.  Another curious scene took place at the sitting of last Monday.  M. du Moncel presented to his colleagues, the “condensateur chantant,” which had been exhibited on the previous Saturday.  He retired to the room of the Académie Française, in company with M. Faye, closed the door and sang.  His voice was heard coming from a number of sheets of paper, in which six sheets of tinfoil had been inserted, and connected with the wires of an induction coil.  M. Bouillaud was obliged to retreat from the position he had taken at the sitting of September 30.  He made no allusion to the accusation of ventriloquism, but read a long quotation from Descartes, to show that “even if a speaking machine had been constructed, it could by no means be considered as a thinking machine.”  He said that speaking was not only a mechanical action, but also an intellectual work, so that neither the phonograph nor the singing condenser could be regarded by any means as really speaking!  The whole assembly, in spite of its usual gravity, burst into roars of laughter.  M. Milne-Edwards, who spoke at the previous sitting, said with much propriety, he should not have answered M. Bouillaud if he had understood such was his issue.  Unfortunately he had understood, as everybody in the assembly did, that M. Bouillaud had questioned the honesty of the experimenter.  At the end of the sitting M. du Moncel performed all the principal experiments of the phonograph.