Now we would like to lead you back to that program-controlled electronic brain at the university, just to explain that this particular machine is not only well up on deer and grandmothers - it knows quite a lot about the game called "Nim" too. The game is easily learned: you can play it in the office or at home too. Two can take part. The first competitor writes down any three one-digit numbers at random, side by side on a sheet of paper: 9 - 5 - 7, for example. Each of the two players, alternately, can then subtract, from one number at a time, any amount he likes between 1 and 9. The one to leave the combination 0 - 0 - 1 in any order is the winnmer.

The machine is quite good at this game. It indicates its choice of the first sequence of numbers. Then it is the human contestant's turn to play. When it is the machine's turn it announces its move. And so on. Smart people often try to fool the university computer. The machine at once rebukes them with a reprimand not to cheat. And when the machine, as often happens, can foresee several moves before the end that it is going to win the game, the keys rattle out without being asked: "See, this time I am going to win!"

An electronic computer costs a great deal of money, and it would be quite wrong to assume that Saarbrucken University bought such an expensive apparatus simply to enable visitors to play "Nim" with it. The "Z 22" is only occasionally allowed to indulge in such games. As a rule, its job is to solve big and lntricate problems for the scientists of the university . It must be able to work out statistics and calcuIate technical data. It was taught Latin and "Ni," merely in order to impress visitors - and visitors to Saarbrucken are duly impressed.

Whether there are other electronic brains that can play "Nim," we do not know. We know a few that can play other games. On the other hand, we are aware that there are electronic translating machines which can do much more than "Z 22." They can translate Russian into Engllsh at an average rate of 17 words a second, a speed that can beat any conference interpreter. Their vocabulary amounts to about 50,000 words. It is hoped that in few years they will have been developed to such a pitch that they will be fully capable of translating 500,000 concepts, and at three or four times the speed they can reach today. More than thirty scientific groups are at work all over the world on the problems of electronic translating machines.

We just mentioned that electronic computers work faster than human interpreters. So far, however, they do not work better - as we can see if we take a closer look at the sentences the machines produce. An electronic installation has translated parts of the famous speech made by ex-Premier Khrushchev after the Amrican U-2 reconnaissance plane had been shot down in May, 1960. The three sentences read as follows:

"Here is on photographs prominent fuel storage tank. It is necessary to say, camera not bad, very clear photograph. But should say that our camera better make photograph, more clear, so in this ratio we very little obtained."

The construction of the sentences is logical enough, and can easily be understood. Still, it is likely to be a considerable time before we can translate Dostoyevsky electronically into Shakespeare's Engllsh. Meanwhile, the llnguists will have to do that themselves.

We want to say a few more words about electronic games. You shouId know that all electronic computers everywhere have a pronounced taIent for pIaying games - including the eIectronic apparatus in industrial pIants and milltary deep sheIters. Only it is a gift that is not fully exploited. IndustriaI leaders and generals are much too serious for that kind of thing. However, that is no reason why we should not frequently talk about playing-machines in this book. Scientists, who are often earnest-minded peopIe too, and who therefore might not be expected to be very interested in games, have - clever people that they are - thought of a way out. They have made a science out of games. In consequence, even the gravest, most austere and most heavily bearded of the leamed are free to play.

They can, for instance, teach the "Z 22" at Saarbrucken how to play music. Yes, indeed, that is one of the additional skills of this mechanical Jack-of-alltrades: it can "organize" Bach fugues. Admittedly, not with much more depth of feellng than a player-piano, but with technical skill at any rate. This, despite the fact that music has nothing whatever to do with the scientific or economic importance of this machine. In fact, such an application almost amounts to an abuse of the noble intentions of the designer, who supplied his machine with a loudspeaker so that the tumult of the electrons in the interior of the apparatus can actually be heard. Wrong instructions, which are liable to mix up the inner life of the machine, come out as special tones which can easily be interpreted accurately. Real music, therefore, can only be heard when the electrons are made to carry out the wildest pranks by giving them completely nonsensical, but precisely worked-out, commands.

Mice, Bugs, Tortoises and foxes >>>>

© by PhiloPhax & Lauftext & Redaktion Lohberg
Kybernetik - Was ist das?

First printed in Germany: 1963


Cybernetic Computer and Electronic Brain

The fascinating story of how computers work in clear, non-mathematical language