Friday, 10 February 2017

The Robot Revolution

This week I have been reading a lot about how robots are going to take everyone's jobs. Like many, I really don't have a problem with that if it means we all get to go down the beach instead. There are already huge numbers of under employed, unemployed, stressed and disillusioned people. And it really doesn't have to be like that. I'm rather enamoured by Yanis Varoufakis. I think we should put him in charge of the future.

Under a capitalist system, it's unlikely to work. Those who invent the robots will pocket all the cash. But it's a nice dream.

Meanwhile, art is truly opening up the question of what happens when we inevitably create robots that look and behave just like us. My top favourite picks recently have been:

Possibly my favourite film ever, and one heck of a good read. A section of this film focuses on Sonmi-451, a fast food serving robot taught to 'honour thy consumer.' 

My latest obsession. Sir Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton and James Marsden - what's not to like? A Wild West theme park where the 'hosts' start to remember the dreadful things their human guests have done to them. Incidentally, based on a 1973 title

Possibly not the most surprising of storylines, but certainly a stunner for special effects. Another story of robot becomes conscious, robot wants control of its life.

Interesting that each of the films deals with the same theme of AI becoming conscious, all pretty much unanimous on the fact that, given the opportunity, people will act like monsters towards artificial beings, enslaving them for our own pleasure even when they show emotional response. Perhaps Artificial Intelligence was the first film I remember watching that gave that level of belief to a robot in human form. 

It's an important topic, as we're definitely moving towards a world where ethics in AI is a necessary discussion, and art helps us to navigate the 'what ifs' of that.

On the other hand, it is getting a bit repetitive. Robot gains sentience, robot is abused and feels emotional pain (usually in the form of a woman or child), robot turns on creator, robot seeks control of own life. I think we've all got to that level now: don't give your toaster a sense of self. If you do, don't give it a gun.

I appreciate it's very difficult to imagine things playing out any other way. These are robots, and look what humans already do to other humans. There's little hope there, but isn't that the greater artistic challenge? Not to repeatedly play out where we know things are probably headed, but to offer a different vision? Something that captivates the imagination just enough to inspire? Art is a mirror, certainly, but it also reflects possibility.

Meanwhile, I do take some solace from all of this. Yes, human beings, we're mean and regularly quite shitty to the vulnerable things we should be protecting. On the other hand, I remember the very first robot movie that ever made me cry. I was distraught at the death of a robot, and it didn't even look like a human. It was quite clearly a non-human object that powered down rather than doing the dramatic death scene. And I sobbed like a baby. I'm also a person who talks to her car. So, yes, some of us might be brutish to things that look like us, but right at the back of the human psyche is also a huge capacity to love things that are quite clearly nothing like us at all. At which point, there is hope.

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