Early automatons – miracles of technology

The Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum has devoted a room to the history of early automatons on the first floor of the permanent exhibition.

Centre stage is taken by a fully functional replica of the Chess Turk. The original of this celebrated bogus automaton caused quite a stir in the late 18th century, beating the best chess players of the period and managing to keep its secret over seven decades.

The Chess Turk symbolised the great fascination people felt for automatons at the time. Mechanical wheel clocks, musical automatons shaped like people and a mechanical duck which even boasted a functioning digestive system paved the way for this phenomenon. The new HNF exhibition area provides an overview of the topic, from the androids of the 18th century all the way to the triumphal march of mechanics in the 19th century. A video depicts some of the most fascinating automatons ever made, such as a mechanical writer dating from 1774. The first Chess Turk demonstration at the HNF in 2004 can also be viewed again here.

The new room anticipates various topics which have a role to play in other areas of the HNF. Even during its heyday, the Chess Turk provoked a debate on the subject of artificial intelligence. Can any machine be more intelligent than a human being? Similar questions are being posed today in view of the advances made in computer science and robotics. The Chess Turk thus dovetails nicely with the HNF presentation on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

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