The Turk by Tom Standage
The Life and Times of the Famous 18th Century Chess-Playing Machine
Paperback, 272 pages
On an autumn day in 1769, a Hungarian nobleman, Wolfgang von Kempelen, was summoned to witness a conjuring show at the imperial court of Maria Theresa, empress of Austria-Hungary. So unimpressed was Kempelen by what he saw that he impetuously declared that he could do better himself. Very well, said the empress, and gave him six months to deliver on his promise..The following year Kempelen unveiled an extraordinary contraption: a mechanical man seated behind a wooden cabinet. The Turk, as it became known, was fashioned from wood, powered by clockwork, and dressed in a stylish Turkish costume. Most astonishing of all, it was capable of playing chess.
But how did it work? A torrent of pamphlets, books and articles followed the Turk wherever it went. Was it controlled by a dwarf, a monkey, or a legless war veteran lurking in its innards? Was it an elaborate form of puppet, or controlled by magnets? Or had Kempelen succeeded in building a thinking machine? Even eminent scientists failed to fathom the Turks secret.Kempelens machine was a huge success in Europe and America. The subject of numerous stories, legends and outright fabrications, the Turk became associated with a host of historical figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Catherine the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Babbage and Edgar Allan Poe. Along the way, this strange creation unwittingly helped to bring about the development of the power loom, the computer and the detective story.
Part historical mystery, part real-life fairy tale, the mystery of the Turk has assumed a new significance in the computer age, as scientists and philosophers continue to debate the possibility of machine intelligence. To modern eyes, the Turk now seems to have been a surprisingly far-sighted invention. This book tells the story of its remarkable and chequered career.
ISBN-13: 978-0425190395, Berkley Publishing Group
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