a brand-new set of cams, there is no way to affect the behavior of the automaton.
One other eighteenth-century mechanism worthy of special at- tention is the famous chess-playing automaton known as “The Turk.” Constructed by the Hungarian noblemanWolfgang von Kempelen in 1769, it was in the form of a man dressed in Turkish costume com- plete with turban, and seated behind a cabinet atop which sat a chess- board.A human opponent sat opposite the Turk and the two played, with the Turk reaching out a hand to move pieces as the game pro- gressed. For 85 years, this mechanism passed from owner to owner, eventually ending up in the possession of an American named Johann Maelzel. It was destroyed in the same fire that damaged Maillardet’s “Draughtsman-Writer.”
TheTurk played excellent chess. It defeated most comers, includ- ing players of high caliber, and eminent personages of the time, such as Napoleon (according to legend, the Turk knocked the chess pieces off the board after Napoleon repeatedly attempted illegal moves); the computer pioneer Charles Babbage (who later enters this story in his own right); and Edgar Allan Poe. Supposedly the Turk’s amazing per- formance was due to intricate clockwork visible within the cabinet. From today’s vantage point, we should be surprised at this perception; after all, it was a major event when in 1997 the IBM computer “Deep Blue” managed to defeat world chess champion Gary Kasparov (and that only after losing five games of six the previous year).
We would be right to doubt that eighteenth-century technology mimicked the human brain, because the Turk was a hoax. A human hidden inside the cabinet manipulated the figure’s hand to move the chess pieces,as Poe and others surmised.Nevertheless,theTurk teaches us a lesson in how artificial beings affect people, because over its long history, many believed it could play a meaningful game of chess.Ap- parently we are willing to meet artificial beings halfway, mentally fill- ing in the blanks between what they present and what we want to believe. Perhaps if the chess player had been displayed only as a collec- tion of gears without a human form, viewers would have found it less believable, although the machinery might have impressed them.