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Turk Chess Playing Machineby Tom Standage
Synopses & Reviews
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 Turk's secret.
Kempelen's 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.
"[A]n absorbing historical yarn...the story of a remarkable machine and its extaordinary creator as they surfed the rising tide of technology, leaving controversy (and bruised egos) in their wake." Christian Science Monitor
"Saving the best — the truth about the Turk — for last, he keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering about the secret to this magical device. History as seen from an unusual angle; thrilling stuff." Booklist, starred review
"It is fascination, obsession, inquiry, storytelling, and literary magic at its very best." Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and The Map That Changed the World
Includes bibliographical references and index.
This is the true account of the 18th-century mechanical man, powered by clockwork, dressed in a Turkish costume, and capable of playing chess. Created by a Hungarian nobleman, the machine-man known as The Turk traveled Europe and America, made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, Catherine the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Edgar Allan Poe.
About the Author
Tom Standage, the technology correspondent for The Economist, has written for Wired, Prospect, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph.
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