Posted: 31 Oct 2012 07:43 AM PDT
What does a cable car in Niagara Falls have to do with the world's first chess-playing machine? Surprisingly, both were inventions of Spanish civil engineer Leonardo Torres-Quevedo. Next week, as part of our ongoing effort to celebrate Europe's computing heritage, we're commemorating Torres-Quevedo's legacy and his remarkable machine—"El Ajedrecista" (in English, "The Chess Player")—in partnership with the Telecommunication Engineering department of the Technical University of Madrid.
Torres-Quevedo's inventions span many fields. He was the second in the world to demonstrate wireless remote control, beaten to the post only by Nikola Tesla. His designs for airships were used by both the French and British during WWI. He was a global leader in cable car design, creating the "Spanish aero car" over the Niagara Whirlpool which, nearly a century on, remains a tourist attraction. However, his most remarkable achievements were in the field of automation, developing machines that are antecedents to what we now call computers and robots.
Torres-Quevedo's ambitions were bold. As Scientific American proclaimed in 1915: "He would substitute machinery for the human mind." In the 1890s, Torres-Quevedo built a series of mechanical devices that solved algebraic equations. In 1920 he wowed a Paris audience with an electromechanical arithmometer with a typewriter attachment. You simply typed a formula—say, "24x48"—and the machine would calculate and automatically type the answer "=1152" in reply.
But El Ajedrecista, an algorithmically powered machine that could play an end-game of chess against a human opponent completely automatically, is his most notable creation. Although it's a far cry from Deep Blue, El Ajedrecista can lay claim to being the world's first (analog) computer game.
The machine didn't just calculate its moves—it had mechanical arms that physically moved its pieces, in the form of electrical jacks, across a grid. In later models the arm mechanism was replaced by magnets, and play took place on a more ordinary-looking chess board. You couldn't cheat the machine as it could spot illegal moves; and you couldn't win, as the game always started at a point (machine's King and Rook versus human's King) from which the machine could never lose.
In honor of El Ajedrecista's 100th birthday, we're working with the Telecommunication Engineering department of the Technical University of Madrid to stage a conference commemorating Torres-Quevedo's legacy. The conference, taking place on November 7, will feature lectures and panel discussions, as well as an exhibition of Torres-Quevedo's devices—including El Ajedrecista itself. Attendance is free—if you want to join us, request an invitation.
Posted: 30 Oct 2012 12:31 PM PDT
When you have a question, finding the answer should be effortless—wherever you are and whatever device you're using. The new Google Search app for iPhone and iPad helps you to do just that with enhanced voice search that answers any question with the comprehensive Google search results you know and love.
Fast and accurate voice recognition technology enables Google to understand exactly what you're saying. Getting an answer is as simple as tapping on the microphone icon and asking a question like, "Is United Airlines flight 318 on time?" Your words appear as you speak, you get your answer immediately and—if it's short and quick, like the status and departure time of your flight—Google tells you the answer aloud.
You can get answers to an increasingly wide variety of questions thanks to Knowledge Graph, which gives our search technology an understanding of people, places and things in the real world. Here are a few of the questions that Google can answer:
Download the Google Search App on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and find out how much wood a woodchuck would chuck (if a woodchuck could chuck wood).
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