This magical story begins with inventor and magician Wolfgang von Kempelen’s parlor demonstrations in eighteenth century Vienna, and continues today through a curious turn of events and a California man’s passion for the awe-inspiring Mechanical Turk, an impressive contraption which appears to intelligently play chess by mechanical means alone.
Since the artifact was lost in a fire in 1854, its mysterious inner workings have remained a topic of much speculation. Until now.
After years of research and study, magic-maker and automaton-collector John Gaughan has painstakingly rebuilt the Turk. Gaughan keeps a reliquary shop in Atwater, CA and has a wealth of knowledge, delightful anecdotes, little-known facts, and a master’s experience with magical automatons and cabinetry, Houdini-esque escape hatches, optical illusions, and levitating carpets (and teddy bears).
It’s fascinating how powerful confidence and belief can be. Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first computer experienced the Mechanical Turk in the 1770’s. Says Gaughan,
People then didn’t know it was an illusion. They thought it was a thinking machine. And Babbage thought: “My god, if they can build a machine that plays chess, I should be able to make a machine that that can execute various rational functions.”
So this very powerful illusion could be part of what inspired Babbage as well as Jaquard, the inventor of the mechanical loom, to have the courage to innovate on such a great scale. It turns out magic has its uses, after all.
Do click through and read the entire interview with Gaughan, it’s well worth it.
(Source: Boing Boing)