Greetings again from the darkness. When asked if they believe a computer could ever be conscious, two young woman combine to respond: ‘No. Unless they program it that way’. And that answer is at the core of director Chris Paine’s (WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?) latest exploration of Artificial Intelligence. Are we controlling the machines, or could they end up controlling us?
Early on, the point is made that science-fiction has numbed us to the potential pitfalls and risks of A.I. Fingers are pointed at some favorites such as TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, WARGAMES, EX MACHINA, THE MATRIX, and ROBOCOP. We have come to accept A.I. as high level entertainment rather than acknowledging the inroads being made by firms such as Google.
It is explained that Google search is actually a form of Artificial Intelligence and the algorithms are collecting more data than we have stopped to realize. For a film like this, expert talking heads are a necessity, and director Paine delivers. We hear from AI experts, writers, journalists, and doctors. The lineup includes Jonathan Nolan, Elon Musk, and Stuart Russell, and each offers fundamental insight for the topic, leaving us with the notion that A.I. is capable of ‘incredible miracles, as well as incredible horrors’. We are also informed that “it’s not the future, it’s the present”.
Specific areas impacted by A.I. and explored here include: self-driving cars, medical applications, military weaponry, and financial market data. Weaponized drones are an example, and one surgeon provides a real life case study of how a computer would have an advantage over him. Time is spent on the “Jeopardy” experiment where IBM’s Watson (created by David Farucci) goes up against the top contestants and wins. Robotics are also a focus here, and the impact goes far beyond the loss of factory jobs.
Well known documentary writer Mark Monroe (ICARUS, FED UP, THE COVE) helps director Paine with the presentation structure since so many topics are touched upon. The electronic score is a bit overbearing at times, and we can’t help but question the motivation behind the film’s dedication, “In Memory of Stephen Hawking”. The film could be viewed as high tech fear-mongering, however, it’s more of a wake-up call to pay attention to the developments that are occurring (and how data is being collected and processed). The last thing we want is for the film’s opening quote to come true: “You are my creator, but I’m your master” (Mary Shelley from “Frankenstein”).
The film will open in NY on August 17 before heading to digital platforms on August 21.