General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


What was “The Turk”?

The Turk was the name for a famous chess-playing automaton. An automaton, such as a robot, is a mechanical figure constructed to act as if it moves by its own power. On a dare in 1770, a civil servant in the Vienna Imperial Court named Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804) created a chess-playing machine. This mustached, man-sized figure carved from wood wore a turban, trousers, and robe, and sat behind a desk. In one hand it held a long Turkish pipe, implying that it had just finished a pre-game smoke, and its innards were filled with gears, pulleys, and cams. The machine seemed a keen chess player and dumbfounded onlookers by defeating all the best human chess players. It was a farce, however: its moves were surreptitiously made by a man hiding inside.

The Turk, so dubbed because of the outfit similar to traditional Turkish garb, is regarded as a forerunner to the industrial revolution because it created a commotion over devices that could complete complex tasks. Historians argue that it inspired people to invent other early devices such as the power loom and the telephone, and it even was a precursor to concepts such as artificial intelligence and computerization. Today, however, computer chess games are so sophisticated that they can defeat even the world’s best chess masters. In May 1997, the “Deep Blue” chess computer defeated World Champion Garry Kasparov (1963–). “Deep Blue” was a 32-node IBM RS/6000 SP high-performance computer that used Power Two Super Chip processors (P2SC). Each node had a single microchannel card containing eight dedicated VLSI chess processors for a total of 256 processors working in tandem, allowing “Deep Blue” to calculate 100 to 200 billion chess moves within three minutes.


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