Useless Box

Useless Box

Updated Aug 26, 2013 at 02:11PM EDT by Brad.

Added Jan 31, 2010 at 03:06PM EST by Ana Pacheco.

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The Useless Box, sometimes known as the Leave Me Alone Box, is a machine the sole function of which is to shut itself down by extending an arm that flicks the power button off.


The concept design was originally conceived by the artificial intelligence cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky[1] (shown below) in 1952 and a prototype dubbed “The Ultimate Machine” was built soon after by his coworker at IBM, mathematician and engineer Claude Shannon.[2] In August 1958, the machine was mentioned in Harper’s magazine[3] by renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who described the box as sinister for its design that does nothing but turns itself off.


In 2003, Swiss artist Hanns-Martin Wagner[4] created a version of the Ultimate Machine out of an old trunk which he named “The Most Beautiful Machine.”[5] Five years later, in March 2008, Wagner’s artwork was featured on Kevin Kelly’s blog The Technium.[6] That April, YouTuber Michael Seedman posted a video of a similarly designed contraption, which he called the “LeaveMeAloneBox” (shown below), gaining more than 500,000 views within three months. As of January 2013, this video has more than 1.4 million views. Also in April 2008, Seedman launched a website[7] to share his experience of making the box, as well as to showcase videos and images of other people’s creations.

Inpspired by Seedman’s video, Nico Nico Douga user 回路師 (Kairoshi) uploaded his own version of the machine[15] (shown below, left), earning more than 958,000 views as of January 2013. In May 2011, the video was reuploaded to YouTube[16], linking back to the original artist’s blog and NND video. Following this, Kairoshi published an in-depth look at the creation of the box on his blog[17], where he referred to the box as an “Automatized Hikikomori Unit,” referencing the Japanese term for reclusive teenagers and young adults.[18] Three months later, the original video made it to the front page of Nico Nico Douga[19] and that November, Kairoshi announced a second version of the machine (shown below, right) using LED lights to show the box’s facial expressions. He also launched an official webpage[20] for the contraption, providing a log of his production method as well as instructions on how to recreate it.

In December 2009, Frivolous Engineering’s Brett Coulthard uploaded his version of the Useless Machine (shown below, left), making the pattern available on Instructables[8] the next day. In June 2010, Make Magazine’s editor in chief Mark Frauenfelder appeared on The Colbert Report with his Useless Box made from Coulthard’s pattern, giving the machine to the host. The next month, the Useless Box pattern was featured in Make’s print magazine[9] and as a project guide[10] on the site. It was later named #3 on Make Magazine’s Best Projects of 2010 list.[11]

Notable Examples

As of January 2013, both Solarbotics[12] and ThinkGeek[13] sell kits for people who want to build their own Useless Boxes. Additionally, there are more than 5700 search results for “useless box” on YouTube.[14]

Search Interest

External References

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Recent Images 4 total

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