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The Forgotten "Thinking" Machine of Professor Alexander N.Shchukarev

 

In April 1914, four months before the beginning of the First World War, Alexander N. Shchukarev, the professor of Kharkov technological institute came to Moscow on request of Moscow Polytechnic Museum and gave a lecture "Knowledge and Thinking" The lecture was accompanied by demonstration of "logical thinking machine", developed by Alexander N. Shchukarev, which was able to perform mechanically simple logic deductions on the basis of initial reasonable statements.

For Example, under such initial statements, as:

The following logic deductions are made:

This lecture was commented a lot. Professor A.N.Sokov published in response an article with a prophet title "Thinking machine" ("Vokrug Sveta (Around the World") magazine, iss.18, 1914), which wrote: " If we are provided with calculating machines able to add, to subtract and to multiply million strong figures with a simple turn of a lever, then it is surely a high time to have a logic machine, able to draw logic conclusions and deductions with a single push of relevant keys. It would save a lot of time for the sake of creative work, hypothesis, flight of fancy and inspiration", i.e. for the soul of life.

Let's remind that in 1914 when the article was published, Alan Matison Tjuring was only two years old ! Alan M.Tjuring was a brilliant British mathematician, who published in 1947 a sensational article "Thinking machine. Heretic theory" and in 1950 - the second one: "Whether a machine can think?".

"Logical thinking machine" by Alexander N. Shchukarev was designed like a box of 40 cm high, 25 cm long and 25 cm length. The machine contained 16 bars, put into operation by pressing buttons, located on the initial data (logic statements) entry board. The buttons acted upon the bars, the latter- upon illuminated indicator board, on which the final result (logic deductions of entered logic statements) were popped up (in words).

Alexander N.Shchukarev was born in 1864 in Moscow to the family of government worker. He graduated from the Moscow University. In 1909 he defended the thesis for a Doctor's degree. In 1911 he was offered a job of a chemistry professor of the Kharkov Technological Institute. The subsequent 25 years of his pedagogical and creative activities were connected with this institute (later, Kharkov Polytechnic Institute).

Besides chemistry, he got interested in Thinking Logic. Shchukarev's job in Kharkov Politechnic Institute was very important in his life, because he met professor Pavel D.Khrushchov (1948-1909) there. He was also a chemist and like Shchukarev had a great interest in problem of thinking and science methodology. As long ago as in 1897 he gave a course of lectures on thinking theory and logic elements to professors and teachers of Kharkov university. Evidently, at that time it had occurred to him to reproduce "the logic piano", a machine, invented in 1870 by William Stanley Javons (1835-1882), the British mathematics scientist, professor of Manchester University. His book "Fundamentals of Science" was translated into Russian in 1881 and, evidently, was known to Pavel D. Khrushchov. Moreover, I.V.Sleshynskiy, the professor of mathematics of Odessa University published in 1893 an article "Javons's Logic Machine" (Herald of experimental physics and elementary mathematics, XY semester,#7). Jevans attached no practical importance to his invention.

"The logic piano" was treated and used only as a teaching aid by giving logic course. To all appearances, professor Khrushchov, having reconstructed Javons's Machine (at the beginning of 1900th or somewhat earlier), intended to use it in the same way, like Javons did, i.e. as a teaching aid during his lectures on logic and thinking.

After the death of Khrushchov in 1909, his widow gave the machine to Kharkov University over, where her husband had worked for many years.

It is not known, how Shchukarev has managed to find the machine designed by Pavel Khrushchov. Shchukarev himself wrote in his article "Tooling of Thinking" (1925) that he got the machine "by right of succession". Shchukarev conducted a broad educational work, gave lectures on knowledge and thinking in many cities of Ukraine, as well as in Moscow and Leningrad. He demonstrated the machine, constructed by Khrushchov and then, - the one, designed by himself. In the above mentioned article he states:

"I have made an attempt to construct a somehow modified model bringing some improvements into Javons's structure. However, those improvements were not of principal character. I have simply diminished the size of the device, made it of metal and eliminated some constructive defects, in which, as it should be acknowledged, Javons's structure abounded. Some further step forward was fixing a special luminous screen to the device indicating machine operation. The results of "thinking" were indicated on the screen not in a form of symbols, as it was the case with Javons's machine, but in the usual verbal form".

But the main thing made by Shchukarev was, that in contrast to Javons and Khrushchov, he saw in the machine not simply a teaching aid, but introduced it to his listeners as a technical device for tooling of formalizable thinking aspects.

He began his article "Tooling of Thinking. Javons' machine" with mentioning the development history of technical devices for computing. There were mentioned abacus, Pascal integrating machine, Leibniz' arithmetic device, slide-rule and analogue differential devices for solving equations. Tooling of formalizable logic processes was considered by him as the next step in development of such devices to help people considerably in their mental work. As an example, the article gives solution of a task on electric properties forecasting of oxides water solutions of chemical elements. The machine had found eight versions of electrolyte and non-electrolyte solutions. "All these conclusions are true", the scientist writes, but they are rather confusing for a human thought".

Like in nowadays, when in the Soviet Union cybernetics was first considered to be a false science, so in the 1920s, in addition to positive attitude, Shchukarev's ideas were estimated by some scientists distinctly negatively.

Professor I.E.Orlov wrote the following:
"Pretensions of professor Shchukarev, who introduces the Javons' teaching aid as a "thinking" device, as well as naive amazement of his listeners seems rather funny: One wants to persuade us, that thinking is of a formal character and it can be mechanized" (I.Orlov "On mental work mechanization" Issue 12,"Under the banner of Marxism", 1926). - To the magazine's credit be it said, that the editors did not share the author's opinion.

His last lecture was given by Shchukarev in Kharkov at the end of 1920s. He gave his machine over to the mathematics department of Kharkov University.

It's trace was lost later. The name of professor Alexander N.Shchukarev was connected with the important step in the field of data processing devices: understanding and active propaganda of importance and possibility of mechanization (further, automation) of logic thinking formalizable aspects.

Bibliography in Ukrainian of memoirs on Shchukarev   ›››  

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