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Kempelen’s chess-playing automaton

10 minutes

550 million years of human evolution

1 minute

Searching for wives

12 minutes

Being 97

18 minutes

20 Hz

5 minutes

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A chess-playing machine hoax that beat the best and helped inspire the computer

Generations before sophisticated artificial intelligence was widely thought possible, automatons – elaborate machines frequently intended to mimic lifelike movements – were the closest that humans had come to simulating life. Though aspects of their underlying mechanisms date back to ancient Greece, by the 18th century, automatons had become quite sophisticated, and were used as both ‘the playthings of royalty’ and a ‘testing ground for technology’ throughout the world. Kempelen’s Chess-playing Automaton tells the strange, largely forgotten story of one of the most infamous and influential automatons ever created: the Austrian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen’s chess-playing ‘Turk’.

Director: Alice Nelson

Producer: Sarah Tierney

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Human to fish, and back again: a brisk walk through our evolutionary history

Via stints as reptiles, rodents and fish with feet, the evolution of humans is as meandering as it is extraordinary. Reminiscent of a similar sequence from Carl Sagan’s iconic TV series Cosmos (1980), this short animation traces human evolutionary history back 550 million years to a small, primitive fish known as Metaspriggina, believed to be an early ancestor of all living vertebrates. The result is an enlightening overview, not only of our own curious lineage, but of the unpredictable turns that evolution can take for all species.

Director: Jurian Möller

Website: EVO

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Snap matchmaking: Indian expats seek the perfect picture to get a wife back home

In Singapore’s bustling Little India stands a small photography studio that specialises in helping young men – primarily migrant workers from India – find brides back home. The hundreds of portraits that cover the shop’s walls are testament to the hope that a just-right photo is the route towards a good marriage. Searching for Wives follows a charming truck-driver named Partha as he poses for his portrait to enchant a potential wife and, perhaps even more important, her family. In an era where seeking a match via a single photo and just a few bits of information has become commonplace, the Bhutanese filmmaker Zuki Juno Tobgye offers a rather different perspective on the intersection between technology and traditional arranged marriage.

Director: Zuki Juno Tobgye

Producer: Vigneswari Nagaraj

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An ageing philosopher returns to the essential question: ‘What is the point of it all?’

‘Being 97 has been an interesting experience.’

By the time of his death, the US philosopher Herbert Fingarette (1921-2018) had lived what most would consider a full and meaningful life. His marriage to his wife, Leslie, was long and happy. His career as professor of philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara was both accomplished and controversial – his book Heavy Drinking (1988), which challenged the popular understanding of alcoholism as a progressive disease, was met with criticism in the medical and academic communities. In a later book, Death: Philosophical Soundings (1999), Fingarette contemplated mortality, bringing him to a conclusion that echoed the Epicureans: in non-existence, there is nothing to fear. But as Being 97 makes evident, grappling with death can be quite different when the thoughts are personal rather than theoretical. Filmed during some of the final months of Fingarette’s life, the elegiac short documentary profiles the late philosopher as he reflects on life, loss, the many challenges of old age, and those lingering questions that might just be unanswerable.

Director: Andrew Hasse

Producer: Megan Brooks

Website: FTRMGC

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Magnetic and majestic: visualising the powerful storms hidden from human view

Violent plasma explosions from the Sun’s surface – known as coronal mass ejections – reverberate to the farthest reaches of our solar system. However, due to the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, most people don’t take note of these events unless a particularly powerful solar flare disrupts radio signals or produces colourful aurorae near the poles. Created as part of an art installation, this inventive, visceral short uses data collected from the University of Alberta’s CARISMA radio array to sonically and visually interpret a geomagnetic storm high in Earth’s atmosphere. Manifesting the data as a dynamic sculpture, the digital rendering captures the volatility of these usually unseen and unheard phenomena, hinting at their potentially destructive powers.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

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A chess-playing machine hoax that beat the best and helped inspire the computer

Generations before sophisticated artificial intelligence was widely thought possible, automatons – elaborate machines frequently intended to mimic lifelike movements – were the closest that humans had come to simulating life. Though aspects of their underlying mechanisms date back to ancient Greece, by the 18th century, automatons had become quite sophisticated, and were used as both ‘the playthings of royalty’ and a ‘testing ground for technology’ throughout the world. Kempelen’s Chess-playing Automaton tells the strange, largely forgotten story of one of the most infamous and influential automatons ever created: the Austrian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen’s chess-playing ‘Turk’.

Director: Alice Nelson

Producer: Sarah Tierney

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