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"...there's a great affinity between writing poetry and SF."
- Dan Simmons

Autonomous Digging Machine  
  A mechanical device able to excavate on its own.  

This is a very early reference to the idea of an autonomous machine, or robotic device, able to carry out a general task without direction.

When I looked again, the busy handling-machine had already put together several of the pieces of apparatus it had taken out of the cylinder into a shape having an unmistakable likeness to its own; and down on the left a busy little digging mechanism had come into view, emitting jets of green vapour and working its way round the pit, excavating and embarking in a methodical and discriminating manner. This it was which had caused the regular beating noise, and the rhythmic shocks that had kept our ruinous refuge quivering. It piped and whistled as it worked. So far as I could see, the thing was without a directing Martian at all.
Technovelgy from The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.
Published by Harper and Bros. in 1898
Additional resources -

Compare to the original robot from Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.) (1920) by Karel Capek.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The War of the Worlds
  More Ideas and Technology by H.G. Wells
  Tech news articles related to The War of the Worlds
  Tech news articles related to works by H.G. Wells

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