A 200-year-old chess-playing robot explains the internet.

Introducing The Secret History of the Future: How Tech’s Past Explains Our Present

Introducing The Secret History of the Future: How Tech’s Past Explains Our Present

What tech’s past tells us about tomorrow
Sept. 5 2018 6:02 AM

The Box That AI Lives In

How could an 18th-century robot win at chess? By using a trick that big tech firms still pull on us today.

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Slate

Listen to Secret History of the Future via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.

In the new podcast The Secret History of the Future, from Slate and the Economist: Examine the history of tech to uncover stories that help us illuminate the present and predict the future. From the world’s first cyberattack in 1834 to 19th-century virtual reality, the Economist’s Tom Standage and Slate’s Seth Stevenson find the ancient ingenuity that our modern digital technology can learn from and expose age-old weaknesses we are already on a course to repeat.

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In the first episode: An 18th-century device called the Mechanical Turk convinced Europeans that a robot could play winning chess. But there was a trick. It’s a trick that companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook still pull on us today. Guests include futurist Jaron Lanier and Luis von Ahn, founder of CAPTCHA and Duolingo.

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Podcast produced by Bart Warshaw and Kate Holland.

Tom Standage is deputy editor of the Economist. He studied engineering and computer science at Oxford University and has written for other publications including the New York Times, the Guardian, and Wired.

Seth Stevenson is a senior writer at Slate, where he’s been a contributor since 1997. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.