On Isa Willinger’s Hi A.I. and When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

nullBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Playing at Victoria Film Festival 2020
Feb 12 | 3:15 PM | SilverCity #3

Spoiler Alert

Isa Willinger‘s Hi A.I. is a bizarre and long documentary about attempting to replicate human behaviour. This filmmaker shows how they work in the modern world than science fiction. We all worry about something along the lines of Terminator ala Skynet or I, Robot will take a decade or two more to realize before coders can replicate how the brain works to create that level of uncertainty.

Thankfully, this film is not about the dangers of artificial intelligence. If we can ignore the aspect of trying to put the technology into a human body (it’s still creepy to look at no matter what), the possibilities are endless. We are not there for cognitive ability, but it’s fascinating to see where we are with it now. The creations on display here aren’t ghosts in the shell or a machine either. Gilbert Ryle explains cognizance quite well and reference to his work was brief.

The film focuses on several stories: Chuck has a ‘bot he takes on a road trip, and he can alter her programming to reflect certain attitudes as needed. However, what’s missing is in revealing how other people in that campsite or beach sees this oddball interaction. I missed understanding why he wants a robot mate: Is he taking part in an MIT experiment or is he that disconnected with how to socialize with the world because of the trauma he suffered as a child?

There’s also Lars and the Scottish-accented blonde robot Harmony. We at least know he’s debugging the code he’s created. Another segment introduced a robot to chat with the programmer’s mother–an elderly woman and her sister who wants more than someone to chat with. His “positronic brain” is nowhere near the level of Data’s (Star Trek: Next Generation). His behaviour is that of a child pretty much, and his Japanese vocabulary/understanding is limited to the programming.

What’s missing is a framing narration. It’s provided later in this documentary as a podcast discussing the repercussions that’s seen with each individual interaction with A.I. Kate Darling is a researcher specializing in robot ethics. Sam Harris has a podcast which discusses the progress in developing artificial intelligence for the masses as a consumer product rather than a factory machine.

While the future is unclear if we’ll have synthoids in the level the future fears in Star Trek: Picard, at least one positive element has emerged in all this discourse. With the right programming, it’s possible to teach our current youngest generation using Alexa, Siri or some other intelligent assistant a lesson in manners. The only worry is that are we becoming reliant on machines to handle our everyday life?

3 Stars out of 5

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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