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Ray Girvan

Interesting to consider, though, how many of Poe's assumptions could equally apply to a modern chess program, and are clearly wrong: for instance, "a pure machine ... would always win".

The determinacy point is wrong too. A mechanical randomizer (or pseudorandom lookup table) wouldn't be hard to contrive.

Rob MacD

Terrific post, John.

I haven't got the details with me, but you're right about Babbage's place or lack thereof in early computer history. He was largely forgotten in the early to mid 20th C (but not entirely - in the 1920s, Leslie Comrie described Babbage as a predecessor of mechanical computation) but rediscovered and written back into the history of computing in a big way in the 1960s and 1970s. Jon Agar's book The Government Machine is good on what the history of computing does and doesn't owe to Babbage.

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