From NPR via Mashable: "As many had expected he would, the president did sign the fiscal cliff agreement with an autopen. The bill was back in Washington, D.C., while Obama was in Hawaii on vacation. So, it was signed by an autopen machine that produces a copy of the president's signature." Beltway commentators have questioned the, er, Constitutionality of his vicarious inscription, but Obama's autograph-by-proxy apparently passes muster, obviating the need to send a physical document par avion. The issue first came up back in June 2011, when CBS published a side-by-side comparison of the two signatures (on an earlier bill) for armchair graphologists:
This time around, Mashable has posted a short promo video of the Autopen of Interest.
Legality aside, I was particularly interested to see that the "Signature" in the logo for Automated Signature Technology is in none other than Mistral, which triggered an uncanny allusion to a very different implementation of the same font. As Willem Van Lancker noted in his in amateur review of the film (from a design perspective), the typeface was recently featured in the logo of Nicholas Winding Refn's noirish 2011 thriller Drive.
While the rest of the AST logo appears to be in Avant Garde Gothic (of adidas fame), it looks like several script-style typefaces turn up in AST's branding: from what I can tell, they use Elfring's 'Flushing' for the "70th anniversary" treatment, below, but I haven't identified which one they use for the Ghostwriter logo (as seen in the video). In any case, as Mashable commenter Smoe S points out, the typography (and tone) of the AST video look conspicuously dated, at least partly for its anachronistic brand identity.
The company apparently dates back not to the 80's but 1998, when it took its modern incarnation as Automated Signature Technology; according to the company history (and graphic above), the autopen itself dates back some 70 years, to World War II. Of course, both NPR and Mashable note that a mechanical precursor dates back some two centuries: Thomas Jefferson's 'polygraph' (not to be confused with the lie detector) dates back to 1806, an industrial design curio par excellence.
Which is a very long way of asking: with the advent of the keyboard (and its touchscreen analogs), will the art of handwriting fade into the oblivion? Now that I think about it, I suspect that millenials (myself included) are probably the last generation to learn cursive in grade school; vestigial ligatures still turn up when I'm jotting things down at speed. But with pixels increasingly rendered as sans-serif typefaces for display, it seems that script (handwritten and otherwise) is increasingly regarded as a decorative flourish; the archetypal letterforms on Apple keyboards, for example, only reinforce the grid-based legacy of Swiss typography.
Conversely, I've realized that my own John Hancock has been reduced to an illegible squiggle, thanks to grainy POS displays and their iPhone/iPad analog—viz. the Square app, for which I find myself rotating my finger in two cursory swirls (it looks like a child's drawing of a cloud) to authorize transactions. To think that I used to practice my signature before signing, say, my passport or credit card...
Seeing as my evidence is purely anecdotal, I'd be curious to hear what others think about the perceived decline of the handwritten word (stories about autopens, Ryan Gosling, Monticello, etc. welcome as well).