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.

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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:

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.

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!

Synopsis:

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.

Gang Warfare Uses Robots

A music video: ROBOTS by Dan Mangan, directed by Mike Lewis.