http://www.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/books/0 ... index.html
The computer wore a turban and played chess
An 18th century marvel is described in 'The Turk'
May 30, 2002 Posted: 10:37 AM EDT (1437 GMT)
The Turk appeared to be all machine, but skeptics thought there was more to its workings than metal and wood.
By Todd Leopold
(CNN) -- It was the chess computer Deep Blue of its time, a turban-wearing automaton that defeated all comers.
Contemporaries in 18th- and 19th-century Europe were baffled. They examined the intricate gears and precisely wrought machinery of "The Turk" -- as they called the strange machine -- and many concluded that it was, indeed, an incredible achievement, a machine that could think.
It was an incredible achievement. It was also a hoax.
But it was an incredibly influential hoax.
Charles Babbage, the godfather of the computer, played two games against the Turk. Edgar Allan Poe, the creator of the modern detective story, wrote an notable essay about it. Magicians based illusions on it. And it provoked questions about what we now call "artificial intelligence."
So, even after someone finally figured out how the Turk worked -- that, yes, there was a man inside this contraption -- its place in history was secure.
Except that, aside from books about oddities and curiosities, the Turk has been mostly forgotten by history. Tom Standage seeks to correct that oversight with his new biography of the machine, "The Turk" (Walker & Co.).
"I loved the idea that this machine prompted a debate, in the late 18th century, about whether a machine could think or not," says the British author, 32, in an e-mail interview.
"We like to think that the 'artificial intelligence' debate is a modern phenomenon, but it's not."
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