The Turk: the eighteenth century chess playing robot which wasn’t what it seemed

the turk

The Turk was an eighteenth-century machine that claimed to be able to play chess against human opponents. After a period of wild popularity, it was eventually ousted as a fake and was actually operated by a human sitting inside.

The Turk was invented by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770. He created the machine for Austrian-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa. Von Kempelen had been a successful civil servant within the Austrian-Hungarian bureaucracy and also invented various objects in his spare time.

The Turk machine consisted of a life-sized mannequin from the waist up wearing Ottoman clothing and a turban on his head. The mannequin was attached to and was seated at a large wooden cabinet on which a chess board could be placed.

The machine was designed to fool an observer that it was actually a mechanical object that was playing against a human opponent. The inside was extremely complicated and intricate so to fool anyone who decided to investigate. A small red cushion that was hidden from view was where the real chess player would sit.

The Turk managed to hold up to scrutiny for decades without the truth of the hoax being revealed. Many people who saw the machine working in person believed there was some sort of magic or supernatural power at play. The machine went on several world tours over its eighty-four-year history and played against formidable opponents such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.

The secret of the Turk was only revealed nearly a century after its creation by von Kempelen when the final owners of the machine revealed the truth. The machine itself was destroyed in a fire in 1854 when the museum it was housed in caught fire.

In modern times working replicas of the Turk have since been made, using a computer chess program, rather than a human chess master.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.