JF Ptak Science Books Post 2394
- This item is offered for sale at our blog bookstore, in "recent additions".
Leonardo Torres y Quevedo1 (1852-1936) was a superior engineer, pioneer of remote control, a "prolific and successful inventor"2, and creator of the what is believed to be the first chess automaton3--in effect, the first human-machine game where the machine answered back. (There are earlier examples of chess machines, perhaps the most famous/infamous of which is the celebrated "Turk", a faux chess automaton created in the 1770's by Wolfgang von Kempelen, a supposedly mechanical device taking on all comers performing at a very high level, except that it was a fraud, a model of a machine with a human inside of it making the decisions, a sort of reverse robot.)
Torres wrote very little, mainly because he didn't like to,4so mostly what is known of his work in print (outside of patent reports) is primarily a secondary source reporting on his efforts. There are three earlier appearances in print on the automaton--in Revista de la Real Academia de ciencias... de Madrid in 1913, La Nature5 in 1914, and Asociación Española para el Progreso de las Ciencias, Congreso de Valladolid6, in 1915.
"In 1912 Torres built a robot capable of playing the chess endgame of king and rook against king and defeating a human adversary. This device, perfected in 1920, and the Telekino must be recognized as conceptually related to the calculating machine of Charles Babbage, as Torres Quevedo acknowledged in “Ensayos sobre automática. Su definición. Extensión teórica de sus definiciones” (Revista de la Real Academia de ciencias... de Madrid, 12 , 391–419). His work in this field culminated in an electromechanical calculating machine introduced 26 June 1920, the prototype of which demonstrated that calculations of any kind can be effected by purely mechanical processes. In 1913 Torres Quevedo had established that a machine could proceed by trial and error, in contrast with current belief–“at least when the rules that have to be followed in trial and error are precisely known...”--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol 13, pp 431-2.
The first appearance of the chess playing machine to appear in English seems to have been in the Scientific American Supplement, November 6, 1915, pp 296-298 (appearing with seven photographs of inventions three of which are for the chess machine, and four schemtics all of which pertain to the chess machine): "Torres and His Remarkable Automatic Devices, He Would Substitute Machinery for the Human Mind".
His superb creation, which he called "El Ajedrecista"7 ("the Chess Player") was an electromechanical device which pitted an endgame between a King/King-rook, and was fully and completely hand's-free functional. A later version attempted an improvement on this magnificent machine using magnets.
The machine was exhibited and demonstrated in 1951 by Torres' son, Gonzala, showing how the machine worked to the inventor of cybnertics, the big-brained Norbert Wiener. A photograph of the meeting appears in the Eames' great book, The Computer Perspective, though I downloaded this image (below) from Cybnertic Zoo:
ALSO: this fantastic video from youtube of the machine at work:
1. Nice piece on Torres y Quevedo in Wikipedia, here. And another, "Cyber Heroes of the Past", http://wvegter.hivemind.net/abacus/CyberHeroes/Quevedo.htm
2. Brian Randell, Annals of the History of Computing, 4/4, October 1982, on the contributions of Ludgate, Torres, and Bush, with full text here: http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/publications/articles/papers/398.pdf
3. _____. "This chess automaton, believed to have been the world's first..." ibid.
4. Torres Quevedo disliked writing–“for me a form of martyrdom,” he called it–and thus his scientific contributions must be traced from the few reports he did write and, especially, from the patents he obtained and the machines he built." --Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 13, p 431.
5. Henri Vigneron "Les Automate" La Nature, 1914, found here: http://cyberneticzoo.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Automates-La-Nature-Torres-1914.pdf]
6. "El autómata ajedrecista", from Asociación Española para el Progreso de las Ciencias, Congreso de Valladolid, Vol. 2 (1915). 549-556pp. The scientific bookseller Jeremy Norman has a copy of this rare work offered at his bookshop, here.
7. "El Ajedrecista", here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Ajedrecista#cite_note-3