noun The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
According to the internet, Artificial Intelligence had its beginning in 1956 at Dartmouth College in the US, so it appears that AI has been around longer than the current society realizes. As usual, the internet is not quite right.
Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734-1804)
Self-portrait by Wolfgang von Kempelen
In 1769, Hungarian Wolfgang von Kempelen, poet and inventor, introduced his amazing Mechanical Turk that not only played high-level chess, but defeated most of its highly talented, skilled chess challengers and prominent figures.
A reproduction of the Turk
The Turk sat behind a large box that contained gears and the mechanical parts which supposedly allowed the Turk to move chess pieces as it carefully considered each move. Von Kempelen opened the box to reveal the contents to his skeptical audiences before the chess competitions began. The Turk’s fame grew as it played and even won chess games against Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Turk was an amazing machine and a brilliant, profitable venture for the man who was an imaginative and highly skilled writer and artist, a brilliant inventor, talented story-teller, and successful fraud.
Of course, Turk’s success sent the entire world into a tizzy of fear of what would happen if the machines take over the world. Sound familiar? Maybe they were onto something after all.
The Turk’s new owner took the chess-playing machine to Richmond, Virginia; Edgar Allan Poe studied the machine in operation then wrote an essay about the Turk in 1836. Anyone else suspect the Turk might have inspired the first of our modern day science fiction writers?
The Difference Engine
The Turk inspired other chess players who were inventors and scientists to consider the idea of artificial intelligence more seriously, and is highly regarded by many as the inspiration for the Difference Engine, which was the precursor of our modern computers that Charles Babbage built in 1821 fifty years after von Kempelen introduced his amazing Turk.
My (short) Chess Career
My first year in college, I discovered the Chess Club. I wasn’t allowed to be a member because of the Club Rules that were antiquated even then, but there was no known rule about “nonmembers” being in the Chess Club room, so I watched, learned, and quickly spotted the common errors and absorbed the strategies that won.
It must have been a rainy day because there weren’t many chess club members in the sacred room, so I sat at a forbidden chest table, offered to play, and won. I loved chess. I played and won for weeks until the advisor told me I couldn’t play chess any more because a tournament was coming up, and the members couldn’t practice with “outsiders.”
I suppose it should have been a major blow to my self-esteem, but it wasn’t. I was used to being an outsider and eventually became a computer programmer fifteen years later. I followed your lead, Turk!
Well played, Turk. Checkmate.
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