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Turks gambit The Mechanical Turk The True Story of the Chess-Playing Machine That Fooled the World Tom Standage 288pp Allen Lane This is Tom Standages third pocket-sized book delving into the history of science and engineering and yet again he has found a subject that is not only fascinating but which also resonates with contemporary issues In The Victorian Internet Standage explored the development of the telegraph which permitted long-distance instantaneous communication for the first time If we want to know how to cope with the internet and the accompanying communications revolution then we could learn something from the Victorians In The Neptune File Standage explained how in the 19th century a new unseen planet was discovered because of its gravitational tugging which caused Uranus to deviate from its predicted path Today astronomers can detect unseen planets orbiting distant stars because the same tugging causes the stars to wobble Now we have The Mechanical Turk the story of the 18th-century automaton that convinced everyone that a machine could play world-class chess a feat that was only truly achieved in the last decade Standage reveals how our ancestors reacted to this first apparent example of artificial intelligence He explains how the machine actually worked and he brings us up to date with the terrible moment when a computer beat Garry Kasparov the world chess champion During the 18th century Europe went crazy over the rise of automata newfangled machines that seemed to mimic life The automata emerged from the increasingly ingenious set pieces that clockmakers constructed to mark the chiming of the hour or a special feast day These mechanical theatrical displays ranged from astronomical shows to kings and shepherds genuflecting before the Madonna and Child presenting their gifts and retreating In 1737 Jacques de Vaucanson displayed in Paris a mechanical flute player which could alter its breath lips and fingers to play a tune This was followed by a flautist that could
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