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Turk

The Turk was officially published on April 25th. So far it has been excerpted in Wired, The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent, and reviewed in publications including The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail, Time Out, the Chicago Tribune and the Providence Journal. The Wired excerpt was also picked up by Slashdot (yay! I’ve been Slashdotted). I’ve updated my Turk page with review quotes accordingly; I also invite you to visit the book’s official site.

Wired has published an excerpt of The Mechanical Turk in its latest issue (10.03). It briefly tells the automaton’s story and then examines why the Turk struck such a chord with audiences in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. The article is one of several related pieces in the magazine on artificial intelligence, a subject that is suddenly fashionable again. Articles in Technology Review and The Economist are also propagating the “AI is back” meme. Its emergence coincides with the publication of a number of books (mine included) on the history of automata, machines that imitate living things. Ah, historical parallels…

My third book, The Mechanical Turk, will be out in April. (It will be called simply The Turk in the US.) The book tells the story of the chess-playing machine built by Wolfgang von Kempelen, a Hungarian nobleman, in 1769 in response to a challenge from Maria Theresa, empress of Austria-Hungary. It defeated Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Babbage, among many others. But could a machine really play chess, or was it all a hoax? The Turk, as the machine became known, caused a vigorous debate about the possibility of machine intelligence 150 years before the first computers were constructed.

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