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BOOK REVIEW – AMBROSE BIERCE – MOXON’S MASTER 1909

 

Here is an author as ahead of his time as H. G. Wells. Moxon’s Master is one of the first robot stories in world literature, though the word robot would not be used until 1921 with publication of Karel Capek’s drama, RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

 

Science fiction was a rare venture for Bierce, who mainly wrote ghost stories, war stories and political satire.

 

Bierce’s story has a chess playing rather brutish automaton, created well in advance of our sophisticated modern chess playing computers. It begins when an un-named narrator visits his friend, Moxon, who boasts of creating an automaton, and they spend some time discussing how machines can be regarded as living things. The narrator argues that a machine would not have a brain. Moxon replies that plants have no brains either, but still achieve remarkable things. Much of the discussion on the nature of life and whether machines should be considered in the same way as living things, or people is very much ahead of the later Artificial Intelligence theories started by Alan Turing.

 

The narrator hears some noise in another room. Moxon goes to investigate, and returns, covered in blood after an apparent fight. The narrator is unable to find out what happened on this occasion, but on a later visit, he sees Moxon playing chess with a stranger, who seems to be misshapen, like a gorilla. The narrator realizes that it is in fact an automaton – a machine.

 

Unlike modern computers, the machine is not very good at chess, and Moxon quickly gets it into checkmate. Unfortunately, the robot isn’t a very good loser either, and before the narrator’s eyes, it kills Moxon. The narrator is knocked unconscious, but rescued by Moxon’s manservant after the house burns down. The exact fate of the robot is left undeclared.

 

Full text of the story - http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/MoxoMast.shtml

 

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