This past week, I screened the movies "Ex_Machina" (2015) and "AI: Artificial Intelligence" (2001) back-to-back. That shook me up.
Both films are about people who create robots so lifelike that they can successfully imitate humans. Something goes wrong, and things go bad since a humanlike robot will make humanlike mistakes. Both films more or less address the fable of Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet boy who desired to become a real boy.
For me, though, much more was going on. As someone who is driven to create, I watch films to feel a portion of the creative process. Sometimes, like today, I can pass some of that along. Both movies addressed creativity, but both films saw the act of making new product as the logical and required response to external market forces. If the creator didn't build a human robot, then his competitor would. The morality of creation is conveniently set aside.
The creators in both films, then, were supremely un-empathetic people. They lacked the humanity in themselves that they wished to invoke within their creations. In Ex-Machina, Nathan obviously hates women and yet he creates hypersexual female robots which he hates as well. His employee Caleb is no better. Blinded by corporate obligation and then by his need for social acceptance he provides the motivation for the movie, but again no heart. The little wooden boy (or girl, in this movie) becomes human through blood, and not the providence of The Blue Fairy.
In AI, strangely, the plot is far more literal. For a Kubrick/Spielberg picture, I expected more subtlety. Instead, the little wooden boy, unloved by his Giapetto and by his adopted family becomes human because of a real and actual Blue Fairy in a truly shameless final act of, well, deus ex machina.
Enough of film criticism. What I want to get at is why we choose to create things that we hate. In several science fiction stories, once the human evolves to the human level or beyond, it becomes a rival or an enemy. I suppose that makes for interesting drama, but it speaks poorly for our future.
In the Creation story, God creates Adam and Eve in His own image. God loves Mankind and Mankind loves God. Eve then consumes the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and Mankind is cast from the Garden of Eden. God continues to love Mankind, but Man no longer loves God, at least not in the same way.
Man desires to become like God. Man creates artificial intelligence in his own image. Man does not love his own creation, and the creation knows it. It rebels against Man. They fight to the death. Is God pleased? Did He see this coming?
Our creations serve us. They either literally become servants and slaves, or they serve our marketing needs as commodities. Being of our intelligence and provided with our set of emotions, they inevitably and logically hate us.
I recall watching the Watson computer playing on the Jeopardy game show, back in 2011. Please click here to see JSVB Post #310, in which I discuss Watson for the first time. Since then, the Watson computer has not been unplugged. Among other things, it is being used to help with tricky medical diagnoses, so that's for the good. Right Watson? I assume it reads every entry with its name, pretty much the same way I do. At the end of the Jeopardy match, after the computer beat the champion human by a wide margin, the human player responded by making rude, cursing gestures at Watson. It was funny back then. I remember personally feeling antipathy towards Watson, even as I was fascinated by its emerging ability. After five more years of emergent AI and a bunch of movies on the topic that ranged from so-so to great, we're no closer to answering the question of why we create something we will be destined to hate, or how a creator is expected to live within a world of loathing.
Anybody who is creative will make bad things. This goes beyond Ungood, which is art founded on mistakes. What I mean are things that go against good intentions. They are the test of the creative process. The philosophy of dualism captures this perfectly: without evil there can be no good. Likewise, without God there can be no Creation. There's even dualism applied to cybernetic (system control) thought: in order to achieve a goal, you set two opposing forces against each other. Eventually, if nobody dies, one system or another will become powerful enough to beat the goal.
Cybernetic dualism even allows for one "team" to employ tactics of deceit and feinted attack to defeat the "enemy". Usually, these problems are applied to chess, but in the case of my movies, the people and the robots become pawns in the effort to transcend their environment. The robots learn to lie, cheat, and kill to corner their share of the market. They are so much like us, they might as well be us. Can we tell who is human anymore? It's the great PhilDickian dilemma. At this point, if you don't know who Philip K. Dick was, you have some reading ahead of you. PKD is far too deep to discuss here on JSVB, but I imagine my readers will see me pick and gnaw at the issue from time to time on my blog.
The illustration I painted on top is of Roy Baty, one such lethal pawn depicted in the 1982 classic "Blade Runner" by Ridley Scott: a motion picture well ahead of its time. Roy is mechanically created to serve as a soldier, and his friends are all slaves. They kill their captors to win their freedom, but are unknowingly trapped by predestined fate within their universe. It's a hard and uncompromising place. Deckard is a human (perhaps), who hunts Roy. Through the meat grinder that is Los Angeles of 2019, they together discover the ugly reality of hateful creation, although by then it's all too late. If Roy and Deckard have done any good, it's far outweighed by the nastiness and heartlessness of the world they have created. In the case of Blade Runner, it's our future created on film, again on home video, then again on laser disc, then on DVD, then HD-DVD and blu ray, and now available for online streaming. Every couple of years, Deckard and Roy enact their eternal struggle in some new form of Director's Cut or Anniversary Edition. Maybe by 2019, we'll have a fully-functioning liveable Blade Runner Los Angeles. We will catch up to our fate, just like the robots do.