It All Started with Marvin Minsky
Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was a professor emeritus at MIT Media lab and a pioneer of Artificial Intelligence research. During his graduate work at Bell Labs in 1952, he came up with the idea for a device that he called the “ultimate machine.” He envisioned a simple box with a switch. When a user switched the machine on, a “hand” would emerge from the box and switch it off again. His mentor, Claude Shannon, was apparently amused by the idea and created the first working version which he kept on the desk in his office, no doubt to the interest, delight or confusion of many visitors.
Decades later, the device still intrigues and inspires many “makers.” Today, it is more commonly known as the “Useless Machine,” or “Useless Box.”
Here is what Wikipedia says about the Useless Box http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useless_machine
The device is widely available as kits or as completed boxes. A quick Internet search will reveal many unique interpretations of the device, from a simple electronic box with a small motor and a few switches like the one above, to far more elaborate boxes that almost seem to have personalities. You’ll find animals coming out of the boxes, multiple switches, temper tantrums and even a box that will hide the switch or run away to keep you from switching it on again.