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Print to Projector: Mind vs Machine

By  · Published on March 5th, 2011

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.

As we all know, robots will eventually take over the planet and use our bodies for the precious fuel that they need to survive when they’ve run out of old people’s medication. As humans who love movies, it will be of paramount importance to document that rise so that robots will have something to watch and laugh at.

It’s true. Documentaries need love, too. However, when we think of finding source material for a movie (as this column does weekly (stop laughing)), it’s natural to assume that movie is going to be fictional. After all, it’s based off something, right?

Fortunately, there is still investigative journalism going on out there in the big bad world of media that can and should act as inspiration for the documentarians of the world. All it takes is a fascinating story.

So what’s the fascinating story here? “Mind Vs Machine” is the first-hand account from writer Brian Christian of the time when he had to convince a panel of strangers that he was a human. He had to make them believe he wasn’t a computer or risk being a part of one more battle won by our future robot overlords.


By Brian Christian

“I wake up in a hotel room 5,000 miles from my home in Seattle.”


Remember all those books that I write about? How you can’t instantly read them for yourself because they’re hiding away in libraries and book stores that have hippies outside of them trying to get you to donate to Greenpeace?

Fortunately, you can read “Mind Vs. Machine” right this very instant without having to worry about your name ending up on a drum circle email list.

Great read, right?

It’s witty, a bit sardonic, but mostly hopeful and (pardon the perfection here) hopelessly human. For a man trying seriously to prove that he’s not a computer, the most telling thing comes from the fact that he’s so nervous about not being able to prove he’s not a computer.

For those of you who chose not to dig through such a fantastically well-written long-form article (because the Stumble Upon button was yelling at you), “Mind Vs. Machine” takes place at an annual event where the Turing Test is conducted – a panel of specialists like psychologists, technophiles, and computer scientists communicate with humans and computers (through a chat client) and have to determine whether the entity they’re chatting with is flesh and blood or plastic and circuitry.

If you think that’s easy, you don’t know how smart (and sneaky) computers have gotten. Why are human scientists programming them to be better? It’s unclear, but I assume it has to do with promised ambassadorial positions when the robot uprising is over.

So, yes, scientists are doing some incredible things with computers, and this annual event is a compelling, slightly comical moment where all of those advancements are tested against the flexibility and ingenuity of people.

At any rate, it’s an event that demands to be made into a documentary.

Potential Problems

There are none.

The Pitch

Directing/Writing: If there’s one documentary that matches the perfect tone for a tongue in central processing unit doc like this, it’s Word Play – the light-hearted trip into the world of competitive crossword puzzle playing. The writer/director of that particular piece of documentary genius was Patrick Creadon, and he’d be perfect for covering a group of robots, experts, and random people all converging to make sure our humanity is still in tact.


Who Owns It:

This is a strange situation because there’s no real source material here. Christian has written a fantastic article, and I firmly believe he should be involved somehow, but any documentarian could make a documentary of the event without purchasing rights to the article. They’d have to get clearance from the event obviously, and they’d need to burn a live human child at the foot of an old ENIAC machine, but other than that, the movie could be made without even really consulting the piece I’ve mentioned.

The Projection:

This has the potential to be a cool little documentary about a truly human event that deals heavily in artificial intelligence. It’s quirky, frustrating, funny, sweet, smart, and terrifying.

If they managed to document a year where a machine managed to fool more than 30% of the panel, it could be monumental, but any old year would do to deliver a cast of colorful characters and to shed light on a really, really cool thing happening in technology that most people might not even know about.

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Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.