Back and front of El Ajedrecista from the Scientific American, 1915.
Back and front of El Ajedrecista from the Scientific American, 1915.
El Ajedrecista, invented by Leonardo Torres y Quevedo.
El Ajedrecista, invented by Leonardo Torres y Quevedo.
Detail map of Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spain Overview map of Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spain

A: Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spain

Torres y Quevedo Invents El Ajedrecista, the First Decision-Making Automaton

1912 to 1915
Portrait of Torres y Quevedo by Eulogia Merle

Portrait of Torres y Quevedo by Eulogia Merle

In 1912 Spanish civil engineer and mathematician, and Director of the Laboratory of Applied Mechanics at the Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de MadridLeonardo Torres y Quevedo built the first decision-making automaton — a chess-playing machine that pit the machine’s rook and king against the king of a human opponent.  Torres's machine, which he called El Ajedrecista (The Chessplayer) used electromagnets under the board to "play" the endgame rook and king against the lone king.

"Well, not precisely play. But the machine could, in a totally unassisted and automated fashion, deliver mate with King and Rook against King. This was possible regardless of the initial position of the pieces on the board. For the sake of simplicity, the algorithm used to calculate the positions didn't always deliver mate in the minimum amount of moves possible, but it did mate the opponent flawlessly every time. The machine, dubbed El Ajedrecista (Spanish for “the chessplayer”), was built in 1912 and made its public debut during the Paris World Fair of 1914, creating great excitement at the time. It used a mechanical arm to make its moves and electrical sensors to detect its opponent's replies." (http://www.chessbase.com/newsprint.asp?newsid=1799, accessed 10-31-2012).

The implications of Torres's machines were not lost on all observers. On November 6, 1915 Scientific American magazine in their Supplement 2079 pp. 296-298 published an illustrated article entitled "Torres and his Remarkable Automatic Devices. He Would Substitute Machinery for the Human Mind."

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