By Juan R. de Laiglesia and Caroline Tassot, OECD Development Centre
Wolfgang von Kempelen built an impressive chess-playing automat in 1770 known as the “mechanical Turk.’’ Dressed in its fancy turban, the “Turk’’ would move the pieces on the chessboard, playing (and beating) such notables as Napoleon, Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin. The unfortunate use of this national stereotype (which we in no way support) was meant to enchant imaginations with exoticism in the face of the automat’s extraordinary prowess in 18th century Europe. As suspected, the automat was an elaborate hoax, although this was discovered only much later. Several chess grandmasters operated it during its rather long history until its demise in a Philadelphia fire in July 1854.
What’s the relevance? In 2005, Amazon’s catalogue started to get unwieldy, and the Internet company realised that it needed better tagging on its items for sale. For example, if one searched for a crimson shirt, shirts labelled “red” should be displayed as well as those tagged as “crimson.” Even Amazon faced tasks that computers could not do more quickly and accurately than people. Continue reading