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Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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Kempelen’s chess-playing automaton

10 minutes

A chess-playing machine hoax that beat the best and helped inspire the computer

Generations before sophisticated artificial intelligence was widely thought possible, automatons – elaborate machines frequently intended to mimic lifelike movements – were the closest that humans had come to simulating life. Though aspects of their underlying mechanisms date back to ancient Greece, by the 18th century, automatons had become quite sophisticated, and were used as both ‘the playthings of royalty’ and a ‘testing ground for technology’ throughout the world. Kempelen’s Chess-playing Automaton tells the strange, largely forgotten story of one of the most infamous and influential automatons ever created: the Austrian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen’s chess-playing ‘Turk’.

Director: Alice Nelson

Producer: Sarah Tierney

Video/Music

What happens when rock stardom doesn’t quite work out?

10 minutes

ORIGINAL
Video/History of Ideas

How did the 20th century’s most glamorous intellectual friendship go wrong?

3 minutes

Video/Demography & Migration

On the US-Mexico border, loved ones on both sides can see each other but cannot touch

12 minutes

Video/Agriculture

One man’s quixotic quest to bring American bison to his Scottish homeland

16 minutes

Essay/Data & Information

The bit bomb

It took a polymath to pin down the true nature of ‘information’. His answer was both a revelation and a return

Rob Goodman & Jimmy Soni

Idea/Computing & Artificial Intelligence

Quantum cryptography is unbreakable. So is human ingenuity

Joshua Holden

Video/Making

How to build a no-frills protected bed in the wild, from top to bottom

7 minutes

Essay/Technology & the Self

Natural, shmatural

Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not. She doesn’t love us or want what’s best for us

Molly Hodgdon

Idea/Computing & Artificial Intelligence

The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines

Ben Medlock