Edgar Allan Poe

When Mr. Robot met Mr. Poe: the curious case of the chess-playing machine

When Mr. Robot met Mr. Poe: the curious case of the chess-playing machine

It was a hot summer day in May 1827, and Johann Maelzel’s robot exhibition was not going well.

Crowds had gathered inside Baltimore’s Fountain Inn on Light Street to see the star of the show, a European chess-playing robot (or “automaton,” in the language of the era) that had impressed the likes of Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin and sparked a decades-long debate about the nature of man and machine.

In fact, the “Automaton Chess Player” was a hoax; it would be 170 years before IBM supercomputer Deep Blue would defeat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in New York on May...

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