Four years later, after a somewhat disappointing version 1.0, the pair started work on what was to become the Great Tinkertoy Computer, which plays a mean game of tic-tac-toe and is now housed at the Mid-America Science Museum.
Here’s how it works:
Stored in a 48-row matrix of Tinkertoy “memory spindles” is every possible combination of X’s and O’s in the game tic-tac-toe. Based on the current board configuration (as input by a human operator), the computer scrolls through its library of possibilities, and then chooses the best next move.
A diagram of the machine’s top row is shown below, which describes all possible responses to a game’s first move (all other combinations are actually rotations of the configurations shown).
The crux is in the mechanics — Hillis and Silverman’s machine uses a gravity fed “read head” which falls down the front of the machine until coming to rest at the game’s current X/O configuration, thus tripping an “output duck” (no kidding, it’s a wooden duck), which swings down to point at a number signifying the computer’s next move.
An operator then inputs the human response to this move, raises the read head, and the Tinkertoy computer is again off and running.
Note: you can’t beat the robot. It will win.
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