The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

Science fiction stories concerning artificial intelligence have been around for a long time, in fiction and film. Generally speaking, such stories have presented a fairly simplistic, and pessimistic, Frankenstein-esque scenario, which depicts the creation inevitably turning on its creator, humanity itself, with exceptions such as the I, Robot stories of SF guru Isaac Asimov. A more complex and morally ambiguous investigation into the rise of a new artificial “species” is needed, as it will be a key topic of debate during the decades ahead. Issues relating to how we define both life and sentience – especially in terms of the moral rights and social implications of such endeavours – seem set to become not only inevitable but vital for future survival.

As real-world scientists get ever closer to succeeding in the creation of self-aware “robotic lifeforms” – and leading figures in the scientific community, such as Stephen Hawking, warn that going down this path is a big mistake – it appears what was once fantastical speculation is set to become our new reality. The cultural zeitgeist reflects this, as always. Themes relating to the rise of artificial intelligence are appearing more and more frequently in TV shows and in movies — and as the artistic “debate” continues, hopefully the simplistic view of the issues involved will be largely abandoned for a more complex exploration of what it means to be not simply “human” or “robot”, but alive and aware.

Several recent films give notice of the trend.  Ex Machina (UK-2015; dir. Alex Garland) is one, a trailer for which appeared at the end of 2014 and has recently been ungraded to an International version in preparation for the movie’s 10 April 2015 US release:

It will be interesting to see where this goes, beyond its obvious exploration of the nature of relationships in human society and how this might be affected by the existence of AIs. Ex Machina is, on this level, similar to Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), even if the general tone and approach is very different:

Just released is Chappie (2015), Neill Blomkamp’s fully robotic riff on Robocop, as he uses an action-film format to explore the development of a self-aware artificial intelligence in the titular character, and notes the impact of environment in that development.

Finally, another prominent AI-driven movie, one set to have a much bigger worldwide audience than all the above, is Avengers: Age of Ultron (US-2015; dir. Joss Whedon), also set for an April release. This one – inevitably, given the superhero context – is very much in the Frankenstein mode, though again it will be intriguing to see how Whedon develops the theme, and, of course, how he depicts Ultron himself. If nothing else, there is a certain believability to the robotic super-villain’s motivations, if we leave morality out of the mix, but where that leads in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may be different from its origins in graphic novel form.

 More to come soon.

Archival Footage of the Martian War

This is brilliant. Directors Christian Johnson and Steve Maher have taken genuine archival footage of World War 1 and, using CGI and some re-enactment, have turned it into archival footage of the War of the Worlds (which we all know happened sometime around 1897 and the turn of the century, as chronicled by H.G. Wells).

Click through to Vimeo to watch it larger.

Source: via Steam Fantasy

Nazi Giant Robot!

Check out this impressive short giant robot film titled 第二次世界大戦で汎用人型決戦兵器が使われていたら? (前編)– which translates (roughly) as “Purpose-Built Humanoid Decisive Battle Weapon When Used in the Second World War? (Part 1)”.

And here is Part 2:

Del Toro’s Next Film: Now with Added Robots

So apparently Guillermo Del Toro’s next film, Pacific Rim, which is currently in production, will not only feature giant monsters but also giant robots to fight them — mecha style. For more information, see this Undead Backbrain article.

Origins: The Search for a Place

Here’s another truly excellent piece of robotic animation, created as a senior thesis at Ringling College of Art + Design by Robert Showalter. Showalter did everything except the music, which is by Cody Cook.

At under three minutes, with no words and luminous visuals, Origins presents us with a profound exploration of Belonging.

War of the Worlds: Goliath Looks Spectacular

It’s been some time since I posted to Robot War Espresso (I’ve been busy) and even longer since anyone much has heard anything of the animated steam-punk-inspired sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic invasion tale, War of the Worlds. Directed by Joe Pearson, War of the Worlds: Goliath (which we last saw here) is looking spectacular — a 3D anime-style epic that envisages the Martian invasion as a full-on conflict, more equal now than the first invasion was in 1900, thanks to defensive machines back-engineered from the wreckage of the first wave of Martian Tripods. Thanks to Quiet Earth, we can see what advances in production the past year has brought:

View it here.


In 1900, the Earth was attacked by ruthless invaders from the planet Mars. The Martian’s 80 ft tall, heat-ray spewing, Tripod battle machines laid waste to the planet, but the invaders ultimately fell prey to Earth’s tiny bacteria.

Fourteen years later, Man has rebuilt his shattered world, in large part by utilizing captured Martian technology. Equipped with giant, steam-powered Tripod battle machines, the international rapid reaction force, A.R.E.S., is Mankind’s first line of defense against the return of the rapacious Martian invaders. Based in a massive fortress complex at the south end of Manhattan Island, the young warriors of A.R.E.S. train under the leadership of Secretary of War, Theodore Roosevelt, and the grim General Kushnirov.

And return the Martians do. The rematch finds the multinational squad of the A.R.E.S. battle Tripod Goliath on the front-lines of a vicious interplanetary offensive when the Martian invaders launch their second invasion using even more advanced alien technology. In the crucible of combat, this young team helming the mighty Goliath will be tested to the limits of their endurance and courage as they fight for Mankind’s very survival under the onslaught of an implacable enemy.


Official website

Source: Quiet Earth via Avery Guerra. Written by Robert Hood

A Day in Paris

A strange robotic tourist takes in the sights of Paris in this amazingly seamless video from Benoît Millot, which achieves great visual clarity in its photography and 3D FX.

A day in PARIS from Benoit MILLOT on Vimeo.

Short Film: Robots of Brixton

Robots of Brixton (UK-2011; short [approx. 5.35 min.]; dir. Kibwe Tavares)

Check out this arty — and rather timely, given what’s been happening in the UK — little robot drama!


Brixton has degenerated into a disregarded area inhabited by London’s new robot workforce – robots built and designed to carry out all of the tasks which humans are no longer inclined to do. The mechanical population of Brixton has rocketed, resulting in unplanned, cheap and quick additions to the skyline.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of young robots surviving at the sharp end of inner city life, living the predictable existence of a populous hemmed in by poverty, disillusionment and mass unemployment. When the Police invade the one space which the robots can call their own, the fierce and strained relationship between the two sides explodes into an outbreak of violence echoing that of 1981.

Review: Godaizer

Not long ago I was privileged to be able to see director Hillary Yeo’s full animated short film, Godaizer. Below is my review (follow the link to my main site, Undead Backbrain, to read the full thing).

Godaizer (Singapore-2011; short [18:43 min.]; dir. Hillary Yeo)

Godaizer is not the kind of frenetic anime that is all action and noise, certainly during its opening third. In some ways it is more suggestive of Miyazaki’s cinematic style (not so much visually as in general ambiance). Its opening sequence, showing the start of what is obviously another typical day, is slow and contemplative, as the youthful main character, awoken by a bedside clock, looks out upon the morning and the chooks, pushes open rusting gates and then pulls switches to start up the vast repair shop in which he lives. The roof slides back to let in the sun, service gates grind open and lights come on.

Godaizer embraces the dynamics of daikaiju conflict as thoroughly as it exploits the tropes of the human/machine dynamic lying at the heart of the [mecha] genre.

A mecha/daikaiju classic in miniature, Godaizer may be short, but what it lacks in direct narrative complexity it makes up for in attention to suggestive detail.

Read the review.

Review: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux (orig. Kôkaku kidôtai; Japan-1995; dir. Mamoru Oshii)

Reviewed by Robert Hood

Anyone who knows anything about anime knows Ghost in the Shell. Based on the classic manga of Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell was a stunning work of SF animation in 1995 and, I’m happy to say, remains so now. It visualized and enhanced the cyberpunk aesthetic of writers such as William Gibson in his Sprawl trilogy, and directly influenced such important live-action SF as The Matrix, spawning a franchise that includes two more films (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society) and two television series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG). All of them are worth seeing.

Set in a futuristic world where the fragile line between the vast external city and cyberspace is gradually disappearing, Ghost in the Shell is an exciting and yet cerebral cyber-tech thriller that creates a convincing futuristic world and peoples it with believable, if often cybernetically enhanced, characters.

Much of Ghost in the Shell’s success comes not only from its action-based “police-thriller” plot (which takes a thoroughly cinematic approach to its aesthetic, with its fair share of “realistic” violence) but also from its intelligent approach to that material. It drew SF anime away from straightforward if often bizarre combat scenarios into a world of moral and ontological investigation, exploring the boundaries of life and intelligence in a post-industrial, supra-technological context beyond the sort of medieval thought that views artificial life as a blasphemy and the domain of soulless machines. In the world of Ghost in the Shell, cybernetic enhancements are the norm, machines can have “souls”, and the story itself explores a scenario in which self-aware intelligence is spontaneously generated within the complex by-ways of the vast digital communication network of cyberspace. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be alive? These are old questions, but are explored here in a convincing, futuristic context.

Since 1995, of course, digital technology has changed animation considerably. For this Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux release, the film has been “upgraded”, not only to HD Blu-ray quality, but in terms of its animation, much of which has been enhanced using contemporary digital imaging techniques. Some sequences are more “3D” (particularly the opening sequence of Major Kusanagi on the rooftops and various vehicle-based scenes), but the traditional cel animation that still makes up most of the movie has been given greater shading and depth. Backgrounds have been re-done digitally and visualizations of cyberspace itself provided with a computer-generated makeover.

The result can seem a little discontinuous here and there, but the enhancements are used well and the whole is arguably an improvement over what was already a superb visual experience. Luckily, traditionalists can still watch the original version if they so desire, though upgraded to HD quality, as it is included as part of the package.

Either way, the film has never looked better than it does here on Blu-ray. Visually stunning and narratively compelling, it remains a classic not only of animation, but of SF cinema, and should be welcomed by those familiar with the film and those who are yet to see it.

Released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.