Deep Blue was a chess-playing computer developed by IBM and on February 10th 1996 it defeated Garry Kimovich Kasparov a Russian chess grandmaster and a player many consider to be the greatest World champion chess player of all time. Here finally was proof that robots were cleverer than humans.
I had grown up with robots of course and throughout my childhood and adolescence it was in the certain knowledge that one day robots would take over and mankind would be declared redundant. Every week from 1965 the BBC television programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ with Raymond Baxter presented new technology and inventions and made extravagant predictions (usually wrong) about what life would be like in the future and this generally involved a robot or a computer or both.
So who were my favourite robots? First of all it has to be Robert from Fireball XL5. Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the series featured the missions of a spaceship commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; navigator, egg-head and all-round clever-dick Professor Matthew Matic; and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot and Earth’s most advanced mechanical man. Despite being completely see through Robert was really smart and made a full contribution to the space missions and every week he ended the show with his catchphrase ‘On our way home, on our way home’ in his irritating electronic buzzing voice.
Like most boys I was always fond of comics of course, Victor, Eagle, Wizard, Tiger and Lion, and a weekly feature in the Lion was Robot Archie who was built by Professor C.R. Ritchie to be the world’s most powerful mechanical man. Originally he was called The Jungle Robot (due to his early adventures taking place in the jungles of Africa and South America) and was remote controlled by Professor Ritchie and his nephew Ted and his best friend Ken Dale.
Not all robots were good though and my favourite villain is the android gunslinger played by Yul Brynner in the film West World. The story is set sometime in the future, in Delos, a high-tech, highly realistic fictional adult amusement park featuring androids that are almost indistinguishable from human beings. One of the main attractions is the Gunslinger – a robot programmed to pick fights. Thanks to its programming, humans can always outdraw the Gunslinger and kill it but naturally things go spectacularly wrong and the robot cannot be controlled and goes on a killing spree throughout the holiday resort.
Now, Deep Blue might have been clever but it wasn’t the first know-it-all robot because that was the Magic Robot which was a children’s general knowledge game would magically give the correct answers when asked a set of questions. As kids we were amazed at just how clever this thing was as it never failed to answer correctly. The robot figure went into a socket circled by questions and was turned it until the rod held by the robot pointed to the question that you wanted answering. The robot was then transferred to a circle of mirrored foil surrounded by the answers to the questions from around the socket and ‘by magic’ the robot spun until the rod pointed at the correct answer!
It wasn’t magic at all of course because It was done with a simple magnet. The robot was fastened into a swivelling base and that, when fitted into the socket, was held fast so that when you turned the robot to your question it was turning it within its own base. This meant that the polarity of the magnet in the robot was positioned so that when it aligned with the magnet beneath the mirror, the robot would swivel to the correct answer every time! A real cheat really!
Clever but, let’s face it, cheating and when Kasparov was beaten by the computer at chess he accused IBM of cheating as well and we will never know if he was right because shortly afterwards they dismantled the machine for good.