Janet Silver’s rookie season as a literary agent with Zachary Shuster Harmsworth continues, as the former editor and publisher has sold a book to Doubleday about artificial intelligence and the human mind by 24-year-old Brown grad Brian Christian.
The book will follow Mr. Christian’s efforts to “train” for the 2009 Loebner Prize, an annual competition to be held in September that aims to instantiate the Turing Test by asking judges to interact with a set of human beings and computers and then deduce which is which. (Mr. Christian will be one of the humans.) The grand prize is awarded to whoever builds the computer least easily distinguishable from a human being in its ability to respond to the judges’ prompts.
A separate prize honors the person whose responses are most often taken as human by judges. This is the prize that Mr. Christian is going for.
According to Ms. Silver, the contest is really just an occasion for the book, which she said will be a broad and rigorous inquiry into what makes us human. Mr. Christian’s training, Ms. Silver said, will consist of interviews with various people professionally involved with artificial intelligence and communication.
Mr. Christian, who graduated from Brown University in 2006 with a dual degree in computer science and philosophy of mind and has since received an MFA in poetry, has written essays in literary magazines such as AGNI as well as scientific papers in journals like Cognitive Science. He will be edited at Doubleday by Bill Thomas, who acquired rights to the book for an undisclosed sum after a best bid auction that included six other bidders.
On its face, Mr. Christian’s book deal bears some resemblance to the rather famous one that Elyse Cheney procured for Joshua Foer back in 2006 shortly after the author graduated from Yale. For that book, which has not yet been published, Mr. Foer was going to write about the experience of training for the USA National Memory Championship.
Also, we’re sensing an unmistakable trend involving young literary scientists: not six months ago, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt acquired the rights to recent Harvard grad James Weatherall’s Send Physics, Math, and Money!, a book about how early physicists and mathematicians helped create the models at the foundations of our economy.