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The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine.

Tom Standage

After viewing a lackluster magic show in the imperial court in Vienna in 1769, Wolfgang von Kempelen stood before Maria Theresa, the empress of Austria-Hungary, and announced that he could do better. Maria Theresa accepted von Kempelen's challenge and relieved him of his duties for 6 months so he could work exclusively on fulfilling his boast. In the spring of 1770, he returned with a life-size mannequin dressed in a robe and turban. The Turk, as it was called, was an automaton that von Kempelen claimed was capable of playing chess--a Victorian equivalent of Deep Blue. The crowd was disbelieving of a machine that could reason through a game of chess, but The Turk proved to be a formidable opponent that could beat most opponents within a half an hour. Von Kempelen took the The Turk on tour, encountering Benjamin Franklin, whom the machine beat, as well as Charles Babbage, who drew inspiration for the computer from the machine. Standage weaves an engaging tale charting the 85-year history of The Turk by illuminating the automaton's travels and its influence on ideas about machine intelligence. Finally, Standage tells how a modern replica of the machine finally revealed its secret. Walker, 2002, 272 p., b&w illus., hardcover, $24.00.

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Publication:Science News
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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