23 January 1734, Johann Wolfgang Ritter von Kempelen de Pázmánd, civil servant, jurisprudent, inventor and father of the chess-playing "automaton" hoax The Turk, was born in Pressburg.
“The Automaton does not invariably win the game. Were the machine a pure machine this would not be the case- it would always win. The principle being discovered by which a machine can be made to play a game of chess, an extension of the same principle would enable it to win a game- a farther extension would enable it to win all games- that is, to beat any possible game of an antagonist. A little consideration will convince any one that the difficulty of making a machine beat all games, Is not in the least degree greater, as regards the principle of the operations necessary, than that of making it beat a single game. If then we regard the Chess-Player as a machine, we must suppose, (what is highly improbable,) that its inventor preferred leaving it incomplete to perfecting it- a supposition rendered still more absurd, when we reflect that the leaving it incomplete would afford an argument against the possibility of its being a pure machine - the very argument we now adduce.” (Edgar Allan Poe, “Maelzel's Chess-Player”)
|A reconstruction from 2004 of the Turk from the Heinz-Nixdorf Museum*|
It might be a bit unfair to reduce poor Wolfgang on his elaborate hoax, since he was a quite original innovator, architect and organiser in the service of the Austro-Hungarian government. Besides constructing a “speaking machine”, the first operative design of a mechanical reproduction of human speech, in fact speech synthesis, and a typewriter for the blind, Kempelen organised the redevelopment of the war-torn Banat region as well as translating the Codex Theresianus, the forerunner of the Austrian Civil Law Code into German and probably Hungarian as well. But it seems that Wolfgang was a bit of a rascal, too. After he had attended a performance of the French illusionist François Pelletier at the court of Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna, Wolfgang vowed to design a far more sophisticated hoax. And he did.
|A self-portrait of Kempelen|
* a computer museum in Paderborn in northwestern Germany, picture found on http://de.chessbase.com/post/der-trke-lebt-
And more on