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The Mechanical Turk Automaton

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Author Topic: The Mechanical Turk Automaton  (Read 542 times)
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« on: December 30, 2010, 02:47:37 am »

John Gaughan, an American manufacturer of equipment for magicians based in Los Angeles, spent $US120,000 building his own version of Kempelen's machine over a five-year period from 1984.[62] The machine uses the original chessboard, which was stored separately from the original Turk and was not destroyed in the fire. The first public display of Gaughan's Turk was in November 1989 at a history of magic conference. The machine is presented much as Kempelen presented the original, except that it is now controlled by a computer.[63]
[edit] Revealing the secrets

While many books and articles were written during the Turk's life about how it worked, most were inaccurate, drawing incorrect inferences from external observation. It was not until Dr. Silas Mitchell's series of articles for The Chess Monthly that the secret was fully revealed. Mitchell, son of the final private owner of the Turk, John Kearsley Mitchell,[64] wrote that "no secret was ever kept as the Turk's has been. Guessed at, in part, many times, no one of the several explanations ... ever solved this amusing puzzle." As the Turk was lost to fire at the time of this publication, Silas Mitchell felt that there were "no longer any reasons for concealing from the amateurs of chess, the solution to this ancient enigma."[61]

In 1859, a letter published in the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch by William F. Kummer, who worked as a director under John Mitchell, revealed another piece of the secret: a candle inside the cabinet. A series of tubes led from the lamp to the turban of the Turk for ventilation. The smoke rising from the turban would be disguised by the smoke coming from the other candelabra in the area where the game was played.[65]

Later in 1859, an uncredited article appeared in Littell's Living Age that purported to be the story of the Turk from French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. This was rife with errors ranging from dates of events to a story of a Polish officer whose legs were amputated, but ended up being rescued by Kempelen and smuggled back to Russia inside the machine.[66]

A new article about the Turk did not turn up until 1899, when The American Chess Magazine published an account of the Turk's match with Napoleon Bonaparte. The story was basically a review of previous accounts, and a substantive published account would not appear until 1947, when Chess Review published articles by Kenneth Harkness and Jack Straley Battell that amounted to a comprehensive history and description of the Turk, complete with new diagrams that synthesized information from previous publications. Another article written in 1960 for American Heritage by Ernest Wittenberg provided new diagrams describing how the director sat inside the cabinet.[67]

In a 1945 publication of Henry A. Davidson's A Short History of Chess significant weight is given to Poe's essay which erroneously suggested that the player sat inside the Turk figure rather than on a moving seat inside the cabinet. A similar error would occur in Alex G. Bell's 1978 book, The Machine Plays Chess, which falsely asserted that "the operator was a trained boy (or very small adult) who followed the directions of the chess player who was hidden elsewhere on stage or in the theater…"[68]

More books were published about the Turk toward the end of the 20th century. Along with Bell's book, Charles Michael Carroll's The Great Chess Automaton (1975) focused more on the studies of the Turk. Bradley Ewart's Chess: Man vs. Machine (1980) discussed the Turk as well as other purported chess-playing automatons.[69]

It was not until the creation of Deep Blue, IBM's attempt at a computer that could challenge the world's best players, that interest increased again, and two more books were published: Gerald M. Levitt's The Turk, Chess Automaton (2000), and Tom Standage's The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine, published in 2002.[70] The Turk was used as a personification of Deep Blue in the 2003 documentary Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine.[71]
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