Monday, 6 September 2010

A 1950's Brain

When I was a kid (in the 1970's), the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences was a cool place to visit. One of the best exhibits was a machine that played Tic-Tac-Toe. Given that this was in the days before the PC, it was a pretty impressive piece of equipment, especially as it couldn't be beaten.
It turns out that building an unbeatable Tic-Tac-Toe machine was even possible in the 1950's, and all you needed was some light bulbs, a torch battery, some rotary switches and some wire. A 1959 book 'Braniacs' had the design of such a machine, as well as some other fabulous 'small electronic brain machines'*. The trick with the Tic-Tac-Toe machine was that (a) it always went first and (b) and it always occupied the centre square. With these two conditions it is possible to reduce the solution space to something that can be wired together fairly simply. Now I can't remember if the machine at the Applied Arts and Sciences Museum had the same conditions, but I suspect the design principles would be fairly similar.

*My favourite 'Brain' in the book is the Masculine-Feminine Testing Machine. It starts off asking whether you prefer Marilyn Monroe or Liberace(!), and goes on to discuss whether men make better drivers as they 'are more skilled'. 1950's thinking at its best!


TrueFiendish said...

They probably could have trained a monkey to draw at tic-tac-toe if he was allowed to go first. Maybe he could even have driven himself to the event. (And, for the record, Marilyn Monroe :-))

Scott said...

Yes I too played noughts and crosses against "the computer" in the Sydney Museum. Your piece brings back fond memories. We were all totally amazed that a machine could think! Must be why I got into Elec Eng/programming.