Turing machine built from model railroad

The first computer hackers started out as railway hackers, members of the MIT "Tech Model Railway Club," monkeying around with model trains and the gates that controlled them (this is wonderfully documented in Steven Levy's classic Hackers: Heros fo the Computer Revolution, in passages like this: "The other faction centered on the Signals and Power Subcommittee of the club, and it cared far more about what went on under the layout. This was The System, which worked something like a collaboration between Rube Goldberg and Wemher von Braun, and it was constantly being improved, revamped, perfected, and sometimes "gronked" in club jargon, screwed up. S&P people were obsessed with the way The System worked, its increasing complexities, how any change you made would affect other parts, and how you could put those relationships between the parts to optimal use.").

So it is only fitting that a group of art-hackers in Vienna's Museumsquartier should build a functional Turing machine out of model railway tracks — a calculating engine whose motive force is a scaled-down locomotive.

Scale trains have existed for almost as long as their archetypes, which were developed for the purposes of traffic, transportation and trade. Economy and commerce have also been the underlying motivations for the invention of computers, calculators and artificial brains.

Allowing ourselves to fleetingly believe in an earlier historical miscalculation that "… Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1 1/2 tons." (Popular Mechanics, March 1949), we decided to put some hundred tons of scaled steel together in order to build these calculating protozoa. The operating system of this reckoning worm is the ultimate universal calculator, the Turingmachine, and is able to calculate whatever is capable of being calculated. One just would have to continue building to see where this may lead…


(via MemeMachineGo)