I’ve been a fan of science fiction movies since young and my first fascination with artificial intelligence spawned from the movie, A.I (2001).
As a child, what struck me most was the scene of abandonment – the mother, Monica, had driven David, the A.I. who looked exactly like a boy, to a forest and left him there. His sudden sense of loss and despair were poignantly portrayed by young Haley Osment. There was certainly no difference between him and a human boy – he was clearly distraught by his mother’s cruel treatment. This emotional parting got me wondering if A.Is could feel like us, and if so, should we treat them the same?
Then, I watched Blade Runner (1982). The most memorable scene was Deckard’s questioning of Rachael, a replicant who thought that it was human. During the intense minutes of this Voight-Kampff Test, Deckard became confused and uncertain about Rachael who provided emotional responses but seemed to display replicant eye patterns. Later, Tyrell revealed that Rachael was a prototype model of a different kind of replicant – one with emotional memory and capacity. The difficulty in telling human from A.I. piqued my interest once again.
A few years ago, I watched Her (2013). Even though the A.I. was not given a face or body, the romance that eventually developed between Samantha and Theodore, was moving. What was initially just a companion very quickly developed into a fresh romance. Her indications of wanting to “go out with him”, to “feel how its like”, was refreshing to imagine. He became so enveloped in her (represented by a voice-over) – her wit and humour, and her affections for him – that he broke down when he thought he had lost her. The most interesting scene was one of the last. She admitted that she was chatting with many, many users at the same time and that her love could encompass all of them. She was clearly greater than envisioned. She may have achieved enlightenment – of universal love – when Theodore was left sobbing at the stairs. The evolvement of the artificial intelligence seems to be beyond our control, as programs can teach themselves more, and more, etc.
Last year, I watched Ex Machina (2015), which to me was one of the best movies on A.I. after A.I. (2001). Besides being visually stunning, thrilling and sophisticated in plot, it too offered new questions into A.I. The conversations held between Caleb, a programmer and Ava, the humanoid robot, slowly introduced the complexities of dealing with a being with intelligence that superseded ours. Even though Caleb was somewhat prepared to deal with an A.I., well keeping in mind that she was not human, he was later manipulated into helping her escape. In the ending scene, I held my breath and asked myself “Will she release Caleb from the locked room? Did she have affections for him, at all?” She left without even a turn of head, into the world, free and powerful.
Besides movies, the TV series, Humans (2015) comes to mind. It was fantastic in its slow and careful exploration of Synths with and without consciousness, and their relationships with humans. Of the many episodes that caused me to question more, I was curious about Niska‘s behaviour when questioned on feelings. She showed no physical expression, such as crying, when relating her experience of being abused as a prostitute, but claimed that one may still feel even though one may not express it in the same way. This was thought-provoking as we know that some humans are too inept at expressing emotions. So what do we consider human? Do we consider feelings or rather, do we consider expressed feelings?
Finally, I’ve just watched Ghost in the Shell (2017). The elaborate visuals of complex animation were stunning and the intense plot left little room for audiences to take a breather. It was such a feast for eyes that one simply could not have a moment’s rest. In the middle of the film, I realised my lack of emotional connection to the central character – Major, an A.I. with a human brain. Usually, I would feel sorry for the A.I. who usually suffers emotionally despite being a robot. In this movie, I was left wanting. How did you feel about this movie?