Chess Machines and Scam Artists

I can’t remember how I found out about the Turk, the famous automaton chess player making the rounds starting in 1770, but it’s certainly an interesting story.

The Turk was a sort of pre-computer Deep Blue that was supposed to be able to best most chess players and in fact did win most of the games it played over the 80-some years it was active.

Of course, the Turk was a hoax.

In reality the thing was a cunningly-designed cabinet that hid a human chess master. This human chess player had to be fairly good and also had to exhibit some other positive qualities, such as being able to play chess effectively by the light of a single candle while crammed into a small box.

It’s an intriguing true story and I recommend reading more (Wikipedia link).

The Turk’s legacy isn’t over, as you can see from this wikipedia article about the "Amazon Mechanical Turk," a service dedicated to doing what computers can’t do.

The Turk and its creator, Wolfgang von Kempelen,  also inspired some intriguing short stories, one from Ambrose Bierce and another from Edgar Allen Poe. Enjoy!

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