The young Turks

The mechanized reliance has always been the defining change that made us evolve from Erectus to Sapiens to the perfect Modern Human Beings we are. Far fetched that transition sat to music in “2001 a Space Odyssey”, but in fact the Human Race evolves in adapting itself on trying to be better than itself.

Well, this isn’t Kubricks 2001, we don’t live out there in space, but can go back to 1769 Hungary.
Cue Mozart’s Symphony no 11.

Let me present Wolfgang von Kempelen, a 35 years old Imperial-Royal Court Councillor for Maria Theresa of Austria, who studied law and philosophy, had a great interest for mathematics and physics, and was an inventor of his own. Versed in life, he also spoke German, Hungarian, Latin, French and Italian.

During that year the french illusionist François Pelletier did a remarkable magnets presentation at the Royal Court at Schönbrunn Palace where von Kempelen was attending. Suddenly he had an idea, why not create the greatest illusion of it all?
Some months later, in 1770, he presented Her Holy Roman Empress with the Schachtürke.

The Turk, also known as the Mechanical Turk, was an Automaton Chess Player, displaying the most perfect illusion of it all. A man-made machine able to play Chess against a Human Being. Above that, able to defeat it’s opponent every and each time.

Consisting of a life-sized model of a human head and torso, with a black beard and grey eyes, and dressed in the – considered – traditional Turkish robes and a turban, Its left arm held a long Turkish smoking pipe while at rest, as its right arm laid next to the chessboard on the top of the large cabinet where all the operating machinery was stored.
Before the game started Kempelen opened the tree front door panels and drawer so to exposed all of the clockwork gears and cogs inside the cabinet. The sides and back, as the life-sized Turk, could all be open to show that it was all a machine.

Following this display, Kempelen would announce that the machine was ready for a challenger.

On that first day he aggressively defeated his first opponent, Count Ludwig von Cobenzl, within 30 minutes.

The rest was history. Von Kempelen disassembled his machine – the “mere bagatelle” -, kept it “under repair”, and the other only known player was Sir Robert Murray Keith, a Scottish noble.

That was until 1781 when Kempelen was ordered by Emperor Joseph II to reconstruct the Turk and deliver it to Vienna for a state visit from Grand Duke Paul of Russia. The appearance was so successful that Grand Duke Paul suggested a tour of Europe, a request reluctantly agreed.

The marvelous machine, sold, bough and owned by different people, toured all of Europe and the United States, winning almost all matches it played, most notably against Benjamin Franklin (1784 while Ambassador to France) and Napoleon Bonaparte (1809) with whom it refused to go on playing as the then Emperor was cheating.

The Turk’s artificial life ended in July 5th 1854, consumed by fire in it’s last exhibition place, the Chinese Museum of Charles Willson Peale in the City of Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
He’s secret too.

Or maybe not.

hal-chess

The mechanized reliance has always been the defining change that made us evolve from Erectus to Sapiens to the perfect Modern Human Beings we are.
The Turk was a hoax. It never existed a perfect machine able to play chess against a Human Being. Not at least until 1997’s IBM Deep Blue Chess Computer. And said that, all that a machine can do, even with all that advances in science, is based on what Humans can produce of it.

The large cabinet had enough space to hide a small Human Being, enabled to use a magnetic trick von Kempelen copied from that french magician so to replicate two similar chessboards, one on the top and one inside the cabinet, and mesmerize everyone with one individual’s ability to play a great game of chess.

Nowadays we do exactly the same. We belief we rely more on machines and computers than we do in Humans.
We expect life to be sort by a constant flow of emails, cell phone messages, social network posts, news feeds.
You and your technological interface.

Life became a non-descriptive person on the other end of the line, someone you don’t care about and simply exists to solve what computers can’t.
Perhaps that’s why Amazon’s crowdsourcing Internet marketplace is called Mechanical Turk.
The new Young Turks!

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