The Great Humming God

4/28/2003 – That was what the State Library of Hannover in Germany called their exhibition on calculating machines and computers. This weekend there was a special event staged by ChessBase and featuring a lecture (the Adventure of Chess Programming), tournaments and demonstrations. But we also took time to look around the exhibition and bring you some very interesting pictures of early attempts to build "thinking machines". More

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"The Great Humming God" – this is the title of the the exhibition, taken from the German translation ("Der große summende Gott") of Christopher Hodder-Williams' novel Fistful of digits (Hodder & Stoughton; 1968).

The exhibition was staged by the State Library of Lower Saxony and devoted to the history of "thinking machines" – mechanical and electronic. The spritus rector behind the exhibition is Dr. Georg Ruppelt, also a chess enthusiast who well understands the importance of chess playing computers for the contemporary study of artificial intelligence.

The ChessBase team came to Hannover this weekend to stage a chess event. It consisted of a lecture on the Adventure of Chess Programming, held by Frederic Friedel and GM Dr Helmut Pfleger. The lecture traced the history of the field, from Baron von Kempelen's Turk up to Kramnik and Kasparov's recent matches against top computers.

The lecture was illustrated with pictures and videos, displayed on a computer monitor and a giant projection screen.

After the lecture there was a consultation game between two teams, both called HSK, but one from Hannover and one from Hamburg. Naturally it was played on the Playchess.com server. Then there was a youth tournament without computers.

There was a special corner for children (and their parents) where they could try out the latest and hottest ChessBase product: Fritz and Chesster.

For the exhibition the Landesbibliothek Hannover delved deep back into the history of the subject, showing one of the very first powerfuly calculating machines ever built. Leibniz's "Stepped Reckoner".

Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was born on June 21, 1646 in Leipzig, Germany and he died on November 14, 1716 in Hanover, Germany. In 1668 he wrote the description of a new calculating machine. His stepped reckoner was capable of adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and extracting square roots through a series of stepped additions.


Original construction plans drawn up by Leibniz, who was the co-inventor of calculus, but not a particularly gifted artist.


A better depiction of the working of the stepped reckoner.


Frederic Friedel trying to understand how the stepped reckoner works


A closer look at the elaborate cog-wheel mechanism


It is truly incredible that something as complex as this could be constructed in the 17th century


The Analytical Engine, designed (but never built) by Charles Babbage.

One of the exhibits in the State Library caught our attention. It was about "Tarnschriften", books with disguised or false covers, which were part of the clandestine literature of the battle against the fascist dictatorship in Germany from 1933 to 1945. They were produced in the guise of well known book series or of advertising, making possible the inconspicuous distribution of oppositional texts.


Here is a chess book with anti-fascist material contained within its pages.


The first and last two pages contain chess, the rest is political information.


Dr. Georg Ruppelt, the director of the library and organisor of the exhibition.


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