Friday, October 17, 2008

What We're Reading: The Turk

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess Playing Machine
Tom Standage

In addition to being a book nerd, I am a Terminator nerd. This is why I was so giddy upon discovering that the Turk - the pesky chess playing computer that led to machines becoming self-aware, becoming angry, and bringing war upon humankind in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - was a reference to an actual chess playing automaton. Dressed in the Turkish garb of the day, this mechanical wonder played a very strong game of chess. Many debated this curious and convincing display of intellect. Was it possible that the automaton was purely machine? Or, as some insisted, was it merely a magician's trick with a human operator controlling the actions of the Turk?

Standage guards the secret carefully until the end, but the history of automata and the Turk trivia he provides are fascinating. Who knew that both Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin allegedly played games with the mechanical man? Highly recommended, even for non-nerds. (However, if you're reading a book about chess? Probably a nerd.)

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