In 1950, Alan Turing Created a Chess Computer Program That Prefigured A.I.

Chess is one of the oldest, and most revered games of strategy and analysis in the world. It’s a game so intricate that some spend their entire lives trying to master it. Nearly 60 years ago, a new player entered the game–one powered not by human intelligence and dedication, but by lines of code on paper, written by computer scientist Alan Turning.

The most well-known chess-playing computer is IBM’s Deep Blue, which faced off against Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a much publicized series of matches in February 1996. Deep Blue was not the first computer programmed for chess, however. That distinct honor goes to an algorithm named “Turbochamp,” which was written by famed British computer scientist, mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing in the late 1940s.

Known by many historians as the “father of computer science,” Turing first made a name for himself when he perfected the Bombe–a mechanical device used by British intelligence to decipher encrypted messages sent using the German Enigma machine during World War II. Turing’s achievements are considered a turning point of the war.

Turing continued his work in the computer science field, even working with primitive forms of artificial intelligence. His work with A.I. quickly led him to tackle chess, which he saw as a way to test the true mettle of an artificial brain. (The term “A.I.” wasn’t coined until 1956, two years after Turing’s untimely death).

An Enigma cipher machine that belonged to codebreaker Alan Turing at Bonham’s Auction House, New York City. (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Turing began working on his algorithm in 1948, before computers were even capable of executing complex calculations. Still, Turing pressed on and finished his code in 1950. The algorithm was crude. Its logic was based on just a few of the most basic rules of chess, and it was only able to “think” two moves in advance. To put that in context, Garry Kasparov, who is…

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