Chess is thought to have originated in northern
India or Afghanistan. The
earliest written references are
from around 600 AD but there is
some evidence that the game
could have existed as early as
100 AD. Interest in chess spread
along the trade routes from
India, with different
variations found in
different countries, such as
Shogi in Japan and Xiangqi in
The variation known to Europeans and Americans today (Western Chess or International Chess) traveled through Iran to Italy and Spain with the Moors in the early 11th century, and from there to Scandinavia and Iceland with sea-faring "Vikings". By the early 15th century, chess was well established across Europe.
The six different chess pieces represent a cross section of medieval life:
(self-operating machines) were
all the rage in 18th century
Europe during the "Age of
Enlightenment". Two of the most
famous examples, referenced in
The Chess Machine are
Freidrich Knaus's writing
machine and Jacques de
Vaucanson's digesting duck,
which stretched its neck to take
grain, swallowed and then
defecated the apparently
digested grain; the digestion
process was a fraud - a
secondary device triggered the
sphincter to release a
separately stored piece of poop!
Robert Lohr (rhymes with more) acknowledges taking liberties with the story of von Kempelen's career - in real life von Kempelen (self portrait) was ambitious but not to the point shown in The Chess Machine. After the Mechanical Turk, Kempelen went on to build a speaking machine which is now stored in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Kempelen's original Mechanical Turk was destroyed in a fire in the mid 1800s but a few copies still exist such as the one in the Heinz Nixdorf Museum in Paderborn.
MTurk.com: Today, the concept of the Mechanical Turk has taken on a new lease of life in the form of MTurk.com (now part of Amazon) which offers "artificial artificial intelligence" in the form of humans who earn micro payments for carrying out "human intelligence tasks" (HITs) that are easy for humans but difficult for computers, such as categorizing the color of items in catalogs.
This article was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the
September 2008 paperback release.
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