Today in 1951, the NIMROD, a special purpose computer that played the game of Nim, was displayed at the Exhibition of Science during the Festival of Britain. Designed and built by Ferranti, it was the first digital computer exclusively designed to play a game, though its true intention was to illustrate the principles of the digital computer for the public.
John Bennett, the Ferranti engineer who came up with the idea for NIMROD: “The machine was a great success but not quite in the way intended, as I discovered during my time as spruiker on the Festival stand. Most of the public were quite happy to gawk at the flashing lights and be impressed. A few took an interest in the algorithm and even persisted to the point of beating the machine at the game. Only occasionally did we receive any evidence that our real message about the basics of programming had been understood.”
Indeed, Paul Jennings, a columnist at the time, insisted on calling it an “electronic brain” and declared that “it’s absolutely terrifying!”
An online simulation of the terrifying NIMROD is here.