In a a previous question, I asked about making a rune-based magic system. The system strongly resembles a computer programming language, and that got me thinking, what sort of thing would an ancient culture do first once they discovered this magic system?
The magic system, to save you a few clicks, works as follows:
The magic format is Trigger-Power Source-Effect-Modifiers, and anything included in the modifiers can be omitted and left to will by masters, but if a novice tries to do it, they will most likely end up injured by runaway magic.
A power source can be anything that stores or produces any sort of energy. A battery for example. For extrasensory magic, many Runecasters prefer to use their metabolism as a source of energy.
Runes can be written to write and trigger other runes, and the language is Turing-complete.
Energy is conserved, so perpetual motion is out of the question, and machines do require some sort of power source.
I will also make some modifications to the system as described in my other post, like:
While there are still gods and spirits in this world, the rune language is not their language, specifically, and runes actually work as a result of complex geometric and mathematical interactions within the angles of the rune. Therefore, more complex runes can have more complex effects, for those who don't want to use the space required to write a more complex spell to achieve the same effect.
You don't actually need to be able to read any part of the rune to use it; you only need to fulfill the trigger condition, purposefully or not.
Prior to the discovery of runes, the discovering civilization was roughly equivalent to Rome circa 100 CE. So they have a pretty good knowledge of engineering and mathematics, for the time. (I am aware other civilizations, like China and regions in the Middle East also had a pretty advanced knowledge of engineering and mathematics, but I don't know as much about them.)
I, personally, think that the first things to be automated would be to increase the efficiency of things like agriculture, or in the case of Rome, the aqueducts. They may create a machine to plough the earth or harvest crops faster, and may even use the waste created by their vast population as a power source.
To be specific, my question is: What would a civilization that resembles Rome circa 100 CE do first with the ability to essentially program matter?