ON FEB. 24, 1956, ARTHUR LEE SAMUEL played a game of checkers on television. His opponent: a 36-bit vacuum tube computer made by International Business Machines.

Samuel, then a 55-year-old researcher at IBM, had painstakingly assigned each of the 64 squares on the checkerboard a different set of machine-word identifiers, and done the same with each piece on each square. Then he programmed

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