Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Greg Brockman, Susan Zhang, Przemyslaw Debiak, Jakub Pachocki, Michael Petrov, David Farhi, Jie Tang, Brooke Chan, Szymon Sidor, Filip Wolski
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Chad Herschberger
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 92
Date: 10/29/2021
IMDB

Artificial Gamer (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Club Dota

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It would likely help to be either a computer genius or a regular player of Dota 2 — or both — to fully grasp this dense, quickly-paced documentary, which still manages to hold the viewer's attention.

Documentary filmmaker Chad Herschberger tells the story of San Francisco AI research and deployment company OpenAI, co-founded by Greg Brockman, which takes on the challenge of developing an AI to play against humans in the complex online fighting game Dota 2. And they only have one year to do it.

Over the months, the team describes the processes, challenges and setbacks involved in multi-layered game, but none of them are quite ready for the ultimate showdown: at the annual Dota 2 competition known as The International, in an arena filled with passionate fans. Can the team change the course of history?

Artificial Gamer starts with a little history, showing how computers have been invented over the past several decades to beat Tic-Tac-Toe, Pong, Checkers, Backgammon, Chess, and even the TV game show Jeopardy. (Although, isn't that last one cheating a bit? Wouldn't a computer simply be able to Google all the answers?). The movie tries to explain the levels of complexity that exist in Dota 2, but images of the game — which looks like a normal fighting game — don't really convey this complexity.

Nonetheless, we get the idea that the OpenAI team are up for a real challenge. Occasionally, there's an impressive tidbit or factoid like the fact that thousands of computers were set up so that the AI could play 180 years' worth of Dota 2 each day! The team members are right out of a 1980s movie about smart misfits, and they're all pretty lovable characters, even the fellow whose nickname is "Psycho."

The final act at The International is admittedly pretty exciting, with the lights and the crowd, and the enthusiastic announcers; the faces of the OpenAI team seem swept away by it all, in awe of the show, and aware that there's more at stake than they had imagined. Since Artificial Gamer tends to move a little fast, it comes out feeling somewhat inconsequential, but it's still worth a look.

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