Kenneth Christopher McKinstry (February 12, 1967 – January 23, 2006) was a researcher in artificial intelligence. He led the development of the MISTIC project which was launched in May 1996. He founded the Mindpixel project in July 2000, and closed it in December 2005. McKinstry’s AI work and similar early death dovetailed with another contemporary AI researcher, Push Singh and his MIT Open Mind Common Sense Project.
McKinstry was a Canadian citizen. Born in Winnipeg, he resided several years in Chile. Since 1999, he lived in Antofagasta as a VLT operator for the European Southern Observatory. At the end of 2004, he moved back to Santiago, Chile.
Suffering from bipolar disorder, McKinstry had an armed standoff with police in Toronto in 1990.
He was known on the Internet for discussing his drug use and making extravagant claims about his technology. He claimed that he became a millionaire at the age of 17 from inventing a copy protection scheme “marketed under the names oxylok, prolock, and mediaguard.”, however this claim has never been verified.
In 1997, Chris McKinstry started an online soap opera entitled CR6. Like many other dot-coms, the start-up failed after several months. McKinstry claimed to have lost $1 million in the CR6 failure, and the many people he recruited to build the soap opera, including photographers, writers, a director, and several prominent businesses, never received any of the money owed them for their work.
Before his death McKinstry designed an experiment with two cognitive scientists to study the dynamics of thought processes using data from his Mindpixel project. This work has now been published in Psychological Science in its January, 2008 issue, with McKinstry as posthumous first author.
McKinstry is the subject of an upcoming documentary called The Man Behind the Curtain which recounts his innovative work and his mental battles.
On January 20 2006, two postings appeared on McKinstry’s weblog. In one, entitled “Very Serious Thoughts on Suicide”, he said, “Why am I writing this? Just as a matter of record, to prove I was here and ahead of all of you. Time to go,” and then quoted a dozen aphorisms about suicide, such as “Suicide is man’s way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me — I quit.’” (attributed to Bill Maher).
The other posting, entitled “So what exactly does a web suicide note look like?”, was a suicide note. Chris wrote, “I am tired of feeling the same feelings and experiencing the same experiences. It is time to move on and see what is next if anything.” The suicide posting ended, “This Louis Vuitton, Prada, Montblanc commercial universe is not for me. If only I was loved as much a Montblanc pen…”
Chris McKinstry was found dead in his apartment on January 23 2006 with a plastic bag over his head and “a hose that was connected to the gas pipe.”
Comparisons with Push Singh
There has been some public note of the similarity between the suicide of Chris McKinstry and that of Push Singh, another AI researcher, a little over a month later. Both of their AI projects, McKinstry’s Mindpixel project and Singh’s MIT-backed Open Mind Common Sense, had similar trajectories over the last six years. (Wired News) Both McKinstry and Singh were Canadians at some point (although Singh was born in India) of approximately the same age who had been in contact over the years in the same AI communities (AI Usenet 2000) regarding their similar projects. Both were heterodox AI researchers who were pursuing closely themed endeavours and beta software projects.