Artificial Superintelligence & the Movies: Terrifying or Amazing? 0 55

artificial-superintelligence-fritz-lang-metropolis

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.

Moore’s law states that computer processing power doubles every 18 to 24 months. Experts predict processing power will be on par, and even surpass, the human brain as early as the mid 2020s. This accelerated rate of change has made technophobia more rampant than ever before, with new movies like Ex Machina, Chappie, Terminator: Genisys and the upcoming Avengers sequel mirroring both our dependence on and fear of technology. But Hollywood serving as a forum to portray our fears of technological advances is nothing new…

History of Technophobia in Film

The genre began with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which hit the big screen in 1927, and it was one of the pioneers of the genre. The plot is set in a “Utopian” society split into two types of people: the thinkers and the workers. The thinkers make the plans and the workers live underground to maintain the machinery. The was the first movie to look at how we were becoming a society that depended heavily on technology, and how technological progress begat the division of social classes. It differs from its successors in that it still shows man as the master of the technology he uses.

The development of the atomic bomb and the ensuing Cold War produced the first movies that showed how our technological achievements could cause our destruction. Stanley Kubrick’s farcical Dr. Strangelove, which debuted in 1964, explored a different take on technophobia, using comedy and satire to comment on the dangers of having a weapon that has the capability of literally destroying the planet. War Games, released 20 years later, also deals with nuclear destruction, but incorporates the growing role of the personal computer. Its plot played on how little we knew about these new machines in our homes by having the main character accidentally activate a nuclear missile launch when he stumbled into a military supercomputer program. We have now become so dependent on personal computers that we no longer have those fears exhibited in movies like War Games and others. Those fears did, however, evolve into the fear of robots with human intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence and Technophobia

artificial-superintelligence-avengers-age-of-ultron

Ever since Isaac Asimov coined the modern concept of the robot, they have been the subject of dozens of Science Fiction books and movies. The plot of the highly anticipated The Avengers: Age of Ultron installment reflects a common theme in these works: robots with a certain level of AI, even when created with the best intentions, eventually turn on their creators. For example, Ultron is a robot created to fight crime, but it becomes evil once he sees the crime-fighting Avengers as criminals.

Ex Machina takes a different approach on technophobia. The human-like AIs in this particular film are female, and the plot revolves around how their creator has abused several of them. In our society there are certainly some areas where we abuse technology in one way or another; we often smack the television or throw our phone when they don’t work. But what if our technology could strike back? It plays on the same concept as the Planet of the Apes, in that giving another species or piece of technology the ability to think autonomously like humans will cause them to behave like humans, which includes revolting against an oppressor.

The recent Chappie takes the middle ground out of the three. It depicts the idea that technology itself is neither good nor bad, and therefore should not itself be feared. Rather, it is the humans in control of the technology that should be feared. Chappie shows us how technology could be used as a tool of a oppression by a police state, but it also shows how that same technology can be used as a force to take down such an establishment.

artificial-superintelligence-chappie-movie

Surely modern technology has its daily advantages. Who doesn’t love their touchscreen phone, or their fully automated home security setup? These advantages don’t fully diminish our fears, however. From 1927 to the present day, the entertainment industry has provided us with a forum to play out our fears towards our ever-growing dependence on technology. As we fast approach a reality where artificial superintelligence is rampant, fictions that play off of our technophobia will only become more common. Perhaps the next big hit will be a movie about a world where the robots are the ones in charge of Hollywood…

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 420

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 452

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10