The Promise of AI

PMI United Kingdom Chapter

Ian Whittingham, PMP is a Program Manager in the Business Transformation group of a leading global news and information company. The views expressed here are his own. You may contact the author directly at

In May, 1783, the U.S. ambassador to the court of Louis XVI received an invitation from Wolfgang von Kempelen. A Hungarian inventor, von Kempelen had recently arrived in Paris to organize a series of exhibition chess games at the Café de la Régence, where the leading players of the day gathered. Although no eyewitness account of the meeting survives, the ambassador’s grandson, William Franklin, later recalled that his grandfather had been “pleased” with the outcome.

While we do not know if he actually played a game of chess with his opponent, for someone who was himself an avid and accomplished inventor, we do know that the ambassador’s encounter with van Kempelen’s chess-playing automaton left a deep and abiding impression. Known as “The Turk”—because of its outward resemblance to an Ottoman Turk—the mechanical automaton Benjamin Franklin encountered in Paris displayed all of the innate attributes of human intelligence required to play chess.

Sixteen years later in a game against Napoleon Bonaparte, exasperated by the French emperor’s provocatively illogical opening moves, the Turk abruptly ended the game by sweeping the pieces from the board in an outburst of perplexed frustration. Not only was the automaton capable of applying the complex rules of chess, it evidently had strong feelings about the…

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