The Mechanical Turk: The True Story of the Chess-Playing Machine That Fooled the World By Tom Standage

A great book about a fascinating time in history...the intersection of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, and the marriage of science/technology with magic/illusion. The star of the story is the titular Turk, a chess playing automaton that fascinate and confounded audiences on two continents in the late 18th and 19th century...a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read...highly recommended!
Unknown Binding The Turk was invented during an age when people flocked to pay and see automatons, machine constructed from wood and metals with gears that did a repetitive task. One famous creation was The Turk...a chess playing invention. The only problem was...this one had a person inside. Good view of history....a little longer than I wanted. Unknown Binding Imagine someone two hundred and thirty-four years ago constructing a mechanical man that plays chess and wins most of the games. Today, we know it would take more than springs, gears, magnets, and candlelight to make such a machine. Two centuries ago, Wolfgang von Kempelen captivated audiences with a chess playing machine, so impressive, that people nicknamed the machine the Turk. Kempelen built a mechanical, moving man, seated at a desk, his raised arm poised over a chess board. Within the desk, Kempelen constructed an intricate actuating mechanism, which he always displayed to his awestruck audience. The Turk played Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Catherine the Great of Russia, and many other famous opponents.

As long as Kempelen lived (he built the Turk thirty-five years before his death) no one could fathom the mystery of how the Turk worked. Kempelen's heirs sold the Turk to Johann Maelzel in 1806, and the Turk began a second career taking on Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Edgar Allan Poe (in 1836) and many others. Maelzel died in 1838. The Turk was purchased by Edgar Allan Poe's doctor, John Mitchell, whose son dismantled it and made public its inner workings. Mitchell had the Turk play a few more games, then donated it to a museum. Unfortunately, the museum caught fire in 1854, destroying the Turk. In 1971, John Gaughan started an eighteen-year project of constructing a replica of the Turk, relying on Mitchell's explanation and numerous paintings of the Turk.

Standage's book narrates an interesting history of a marvelous machine built during the Industrial Revolution, before the advent of electricity. He takes his readers to the 1990's when chess-playing computers were developed and to the triumph of IBM's Big Blue beating the world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Standage displays considerable skill portraying a fascinating true story.
Unknown Binding In an age when chess-playing computers are hardly a novelty, it might be hard to imagine just how remarkable people found Wolfgang von Kempelen’s automaton. Though little remembered beyond a handful of afficionados today, Kempelen’s Turk was a remarkable novelty in its day, one that delighted the Habsburg court and was taken on a triumphal tour of Europe. After Kempelen’s death, the Turk passed into the hands of a showman named Johann Maelzel, who again toured Europe with it before taking it to the United States, where it remained until its destruction in a Philadelphia fire in 1858.

Tom Standage describes all of this in an entertainingly-written account of the Turk. After a succinct account of its origins and the background of 18th century automata, he covers the Turk’s history through the decades in an enthralling tale. Perhaps his greatest success is in keeping the explanation of exactly how the machinery actually played chess until the end, thus allowing the reader to share in contemporaries’ amazement of, and speculation as to, the Turk’s secrets. In doing so, he captures some of the wonder that people felt for something so commonplace today – an achievement as remarkable in its own way as Kempelen’s device was in its day.

This sense of wonder is critical to understanding the Turk’s broader impact on history. As Standage demonstrates, the Turk inspired Edmund Cartwright’s automation of weaving, Charles Babbage’s speculations in early computing, and even Edgar Allan Poe’s invention of the detective story. Even after the Turk’s demise, it continued to inspire attempts to build a chess-playing machine, attempts that the author goes on in to summarize in a concluding chapter. Such efforts, as Standage shows, address the ongoing question of the relationship between people and machines, one that makes the history of this unusual device relevant to readers even today. Unknown Binding This book was an easy read that gives the interesting and factual details of the life of this machine, while decorating it with an aura of the mystery and romanticism embodied by the machine itself. There is never any secret that there is a hidden operator inside the machine, but Standage withholds the exact details until the end, creating suspense with the different attempts to expose it, such as that of Edgar Allan Poe. Each chapter opens with a famous chess move and a relevant quote, both of which foreshadow the events of that chapter.

With a relatively simple and straightforward topic, the author is able to go off on certain tangents that are only loosely related to the Turk, but serve to give the reader a more broader view of the world in which the Turk lived. Great detail is given on the various automata that preceded the Turk, and the general state of technological progress at the time. These two concepts create a concrete worldview where you can understand why people were tricked by it. Although there is no shortage of giving credit to the showmanship of the Turk's demonstrators.

Standage ends with a chapter on the modern-day versions of the Turk - Chess-playing computers such as Deep Blue. He relates the two topics by showing that the goals that they were trying to accomplish were really not so different, although sometimes this feels a little forced and the significance of the Turk is overstated.

Overall, a fun, easy, and informative read. To truly appreciate the Turk, it needs to at least be accompanied by some online videos of the reconstructed Turk in action.

Unknown Binding


Read Ý eBook, ePUB or Kindle PDF Ì Tom Standage

On an autumn day in 1769, a Hungarian nobleman, Wolfgang von Kempelen, was summoned to witness a conjuring show at the imperial court of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria-Hungary. So unimpressed was Kempelen by the performance that he impetuously declared he could do better himself. It was a boast that would change the course of his life. The Mechanical Turk: The True Story of the Chess-Playing Machine That Fooled the World

A quick read. Not as enjoyable as Standage's Victorian Internet, but still excellent. I would have liked a bit more of the actual games that were played by the Turk. I understand this could be boring to many readers.

The final chapter adds quite a bit to the story, showing the Turk's influence on modern computing and artificial intelligence. Unknown Binding This is a little book, slightly short with lots of space and a slightly larger font. That is not a detriment to the book - there are enough books around that continue long after their point has been made. This book comes in, tells a fascinating story with some intriguing implications and then goes away.

I was a little unlucky that I knew the end of the story before I knew much about the beginning, it’s the ‘Sweeney Todd’ or ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ effect. Good thing this story starts so interestingly. The Turk was essentially created for a bet. A Hungarian civil servant called Wolfgang von Kempelen agreed to create something far more astounding than the slightly underwhelming magician who had just performed in Maria Theresa’s court. Three months later, he returned with a chess playing machine that appeared to run on clockwork. He then spent the rest of his life trying to encourage people to move on from that achievement.

He may have created a speaking machine, steam-engines, bridges and fountains but it’s hard to live down a machine that can beat people at chess. When Joseph II (aka Jeffery Jones in ‘Amadeus’) succeeded Maria Theresa, he sent Kempelen on a two year tour of Europe to show off the Turk.

It bamboozled, intrigued and provoked people everywhere it went. Most people agreed that the Turk couldn’t be a genuinely intelligent machine, that it must have some human intervention somewhere. Could it be magnets? If it was, how could the Turk still work with a magnet places on it? It couldn’t be strings because the Turk could be moved about and set up quickly. Nor could the Turk have someone in it because the insides were opened up and shown empty before the game began. It also managed to inspire machines like the power loom and Babbage’s difference engines.

Despite being pulled out for special occasions, the Turk was placed back in its crates, especially after Kempelen died but then it came spectacularly back to life. The Turk had been Johann Nepomuk Mälzel was a creator of musical automata, which did things like genuinely play the trumpet. Mälzel was a skilled showman, and an inveterate spendthrift who had to keep moving when his debts caught up with him. The Turk was his most reliable money-spinner, which mostly kept him in funds until his death and was passed to another owner. Unfortunately it was burnt when the museum displaying it burnt down.

There’s more to the story and this book tells it with authority and brevity. It’s certainly worth a few hours to find out everything you might want to know about the Turk but will not tell you one thing more.
Unknown Binding Being that my favorite game has always been chess, this book appealed to me immediately. I've often heard references and stuff to the Turk but I never really knew the history behind it. Quick fun read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lmk if anyone ever fancies a game. Unknown Binding I was reading this book to pass the time at a boring ass job I had working for Holland America in Anchorage, AK. The book was quite enjoyable until some asshole, AARP member came up to me, saw I was reading the book and spoiled the ending for me, which is probably one of the most heinous acts you can do in the free world. So I didn't totally finish it--I was just a few pages away. Wherever this guy is, I hope he was one who was affected my Enron. Bastard.

The book is quite good though. It shows the fascination with technology and the promise people in the 18th Century saw behind it even when it completely failed them. It was interesting to see that the ideas for artificial intelligence was an idea even that far back in history. Unknown Binding Written like a good mystery and very readable. I found the topic to be quite interesting and I attribute this primarily to the style of writing and the way in which the story unfolds. If you're interested in the idea of artificial intelligence, this is a great story! Unknown Binding