(1897–1900) of robots and rhetoric: Nikola Tesla’s telautomaton and the boundaries of scientific communication at the turn of the twentieth century
This article examines the historical moment surrounding Nikola Tesla’s invention of a radio-controlled submarine boat in 1897. Before this moment, in the early 1890s, Tesla’s rich theoretical understanding of electricity and novel experiments with high-frequency currents and oscillators, later named “Tesla coils,” informed his lectures to scientists and engineers at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the Royal Society, the French Society of Physicists, and the Franklin Institute. Tesla was celebrated as a “pioneer in electric science” (Hospitalier, 1892: 195) across North America and Europe. His scientific standing was further solidified with the publication of his first book, Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla (Martin, 1894). Yet, a few years later, Tesla began to engage with the philosophical debates related to automaton theory and he failed to accurately communicate his ideas and the practicality of his inventions. These actions splintered the consensus about Tesla’s scientific credentials.
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