The Turk Was A Mechanical Chess-Playing Hoax That Fooled The World

Brilliance | Dec. 17, 2017

Many people were convinced in 1770 that artificial intelligence had arrived. It hadn't, of course, but the Turk had fooled everyone. The Turk was a mechanical device that seemingly played chess on its own against real human opponents. Some of the opponents included Benjamin Franklin and, according to legend, Napoleon Bonaparte. The Turk, which was an automated, turban-wearing Turkish man sitting behind a desk, would watch a player's move and take his turn by moving another chess piece with his left hand. People were stunned. Too bad it was all fake.

The elaborate hoax was performed by a German inventor named Wolfgang von Kempelen. Before showings of the Turk, von Kempelen would show the audience the inner workings of the Turk's desks—nothing but gears, levers, and candles. Eventually, the truth came out: von Kempelen kept a chess player inside the desk that was hidden during the initial showing of the desk's insides. The player would use levers to move the Turk's arm to different spaces, keeping track of all the moves on a board inside the desk. The Turk arguably began the conversation in the technology community about artificial intelligence. Hear more tales about the Turk in the video below.

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