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No. 108: Nov-Dec 1996

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An Innovative Computer

In SF#106, we chronicled the chess match between IBM's Big Blue computer and human champion G.K. Kasparov. Incidental to the match itself was the fact that Big Blue sometimes made different moves when confronted with identical chessboards! With these denials of cyberdeterminism in mind, consider the following anecdote.

About 40 years ago, D. Herschbach witnessed the first test of an early chess-playing program written by the renowned S. Ulam for the MANIAC I computer.

"In this test, the MANIAC I computer played both sides of the board. After a rather bizarre game, Black made a move that checkmated White. Only then did Ulam realize that the program did not say what to do when mated; it just required that a move be made to escape check. While Ulam and his colleagues debated what might happen, the computer whirred on for about ten minutes. Finally it punched out White's move (on paper tape, then the mode). The uncanny solution: a spurious pawn appeared and began to march down the board to become a new queen."

(Herschbach, Dudley; "Computer Milestones," Discover, 17:12, October 1996)

Comment. If vacuum-tube-equipped MANIAC I was so resourceful and innovative, what might a modern supercomputer "think" up? Remember HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey and treat your own computer with respect!

From Science Frontiers #108, NOV-DEC 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987