Programming a Computer for Playing Chess


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SHANNON, Claude. Programming a Computer for Playing Chess. IN: The Philosophical Magazine. Vol. XLI. Seventh Series. January-December 1950. Pages 256-75. London: Taylor & Francis, 1950. Octavo, modern three quarter crushed morocco gilt, raised bands.

First publication of the first technical paper on programming computers to play chess, in which Claude Shannon outlines the problems involved and proposes innovative solutions.

“Since the mid-1940s, scientists had aimed to create a thinking machine, an apparatus that could compete with or even surpass the human brain in logical operations, pattern recognition, problem solving and even language. Chess was found to be a useful testing ground because of its combination of simple rules and mind-bending complexity… Shannon was fascinated by chess’ potential in the pursuit of what he called ‘mechanized thinking.’ But he became convinced that computer chess and other AI pursuits should not be modeled on human thought… Computers, at least as they were understood then, could calculate very quickly, following programmed instructions. This particular strength—and limitation—of computers suggested a different route for AI, a new sort of quasi-intelligence based on mathematical computation. Chess would be a central proving ground for this new type of intelligence. Theoretically, at least, the game could be fully converted into one long mathematical formula” (Shenk, 201, 211). In this, the first technical paper on computer chess, Shannon “did not present a particular chess program, but discussed many of the basic problems involved… Shannon’s paper is chiefly remembered for the specific answers he proposed” (Origins of Cyberspace 882).

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