A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a 2001 film directed, produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg. Following the journey of a humanoid robot resembling a child, A.I. examined the relationship between humans and robots, as well the concept of robots as humanity's progeny. The film's development started in the early 1970's under the creative direction of Stanley Kubrick. Not convinced that computer-generated imagery was sophisticated enough to do justice to a robot-child protagonist, Kubrick helped to keep the film stuck in development. Spielberg was given control of the film in 1995, but it was not until Kubrick's death in 1999 that interest in the film began to rise.

Contents

Plot

In a future faced with ecological instability, humankind gives rise to mechas, advanced humanoid robots capable of emulating thoughts and emotions. David, an advanced prototype model created by Cybertronics, is designed to resemble a human child and to virtually feel love for its human owners. They test their creation on one of their employees, Henry Swinton and his wife Monica. The Swintons have a son Martin, who has been placed in suspended animation until a cure can be found for his rare disease. Although Monica is initially frightened of David, she eventually warms to him after activating his imprinting protocol, which irreversibly causes David to feel love for her as a child loves a parent. As he continues to live with the Swintons, David is befriended by Teddy, a wise, robotic teddy bear who takes upon himself the responsibility of David's well being.

Martin is suddenly cured and brought home; a sibling rivalry ensues between Martin and David. Martin's attempts to shame David nearly lead to his own death accidentally at David's hands, and so Henry decides to destroy David at the factory where he was built. Instead, Monica instead leaves David and Teddy in a forest to live as unregistered |mechas. David is captured for an anti-|mecha Flesh Fair, an event where obsolete or damaged [1] are destroyed before cheering crowds. David is nearly destroyed, but the crowd is swayed by David's pleas for mercy, and he escapes along with Gigolo Joe, a male prostitute mecha who is likewise on the run.

The two set out to find the Blue Fairy, whom David remembers from the story The Adventures of Pinocchio, believing that she will transform him into a real boy that Monica will love. Joe and David make their way to the decadent metropolis of Rouge City. They are eventually led to the top of the Rockefeller Center in the flooded ruins of New York City, using a submersible vehicle they have stolen from the authorities tailing Joe. When they arrive at New York, David's creator Professor Hobby appears after David destroys an android that looks exactly like him. He excitedly tells David that finding his maker was a test, which has demonstrated the reality of his love and desire. A disheartened David attempts to commit suicide by falling from a ledge into the ocean, but Joe rescues him before being caught by the authorities himself. David and Teddy take the submersible to the fairy, which turns out to be a statue from a submerged attraction at Coney Island. After becoming trapped underwater, David appeals to the fairy to be turned into a real boy, repeating his wish without end, until the ocean freezes.

The film switches to the fifth millennium. Humanity has become extinct and Manhattan is buried under several hundred feet of glacial ice. Earth is now being excavated and studied by humanoid robots, who find David and Teddy, the only two functional mechas who knew living humans. Using David's memories, the humanoid mechas reconstruct the Swinton home, and explain to him that he cannot become human. However, they create a clone of Monica from a lock of her hair which had been faithfully saved by Teddy, and restores her memories. However, one of the super-|mecha explains that she will live for only one day and that the process cannot be repeated. David spends the happiest day of his life playing with Monica and Teddy. The ephemeral Monica tells David that she loves him as she drifts slowly away from the world. This was the "everlasting moment" David had been looking for; he closes his eyes, and goes "to that place where dreams are born."

Themes

Love

Platonic love is a permeating theme of A.I. Immediately evident to the audience is the significance of the love between David and his mother. However, this love is not simply that between a mother and child, complicated by the adversity of human-robot relationships in Spielberg's vision of the future. A.I. is an expression of the human capacity to emotionally bond to any object to which human qualities can be assigned. Monica has witnessed David's interactions with Martin, and so she was just as aware as Henry that David posed a threat to Martin. Likewise, the anti-android sentiment that society harbors -- as witnessed by the "Flesh Fair" -- would doubtlessly also reach the Swintons on some level. For all intents and purposes, then, Monica should have had major reservations with giving David her love. Illogically, she still does so, suggesting to the audience that some confounding force is guiding her actions: Human Nature. Monica, by forgetting David's true existence as an automaton, can easily believe that he is human, and thus can easily form an emotional connection with something so clearly non-human. More philosophically, perhaps the underlying message of A.I. based on Monica's actions, as clich├ęd as it may seem, is that love has no boundaries.

Simultaneously, Spielberg may have been undermining the definition of love. David is an artificial being, and thus is love is too artificial. Instead of spontaneously "loving" his family, David's imprinting protocol governs his emotional attachment to the Swintons. Bluntly, this fact is telling the audience that love can be reduced to an engineered algorithm, a set of circuits and switches. Moreover, David's love is only artificial in the sense that it is not "organic": Monica responds to David's love and returns affections. This suggests that, no matter how "fake" David's love was, it was real enough to elicit a response in Monica, and thus it can only be qualified as true, human love. With this in mind, the notion that love can originate from an electronic feature crafted by human hands is even more ruinous to the human understanding of love. This relates to the projection of reality from artificial sources with disguised conscious. Love being a human emotion is synthesized to project back to humans that created the machine. The notion of love reflecting back at us is not only unique to this movie, but also seen over the internet. See the discussion about Sherry Turkle's Selections from Sherry Turkle readings and learn more about Sherry Turkle on Sftropeswiki.

Rivalry

The idea of rivalry and how it influences social relationships also appears frequently in A.I. On a small scale, rivalry is present in the competition had between Martin and David. This rivalry is interesting for two reasons: it implicitly acknowledges the two boys as equals, and it reveals the instinctual side to the formation of rivalries. The first point addresses the fact that, to choose David as his rival, Martin is accepting that the two of them are equals. If Martin simply dismissed David as a machine, he would feel no compulsion to compete with him and win over his parents' attention from David. That Martin cares enough to rival David, therefore, insinuates that Martin is willing to treat David as a human. Within this realization is embedded perhaps a different message: someone not drowned in the influence of society -- a child -- is willing to accept mechas, while adults are not. Spielberg, in having David and Martin compete, may have been pinning the organocentrism of A.I on society by showing that an "innocent" harbors no such feelings. In any case, the rivalry between David and Martin is also interesting due to the fact that they are not equals; namely, David is of much sturdier stock than Martin. What makes this so strange to the audience, then, is that the human perspective would paint David as inferior to Martin, and thus one may contend that Martin is willingly competing with someone below him because (as mentioned previously) he is too "innocent" to see the difference. On the other hand, in actuality David is demeaning himself by competing with Martin, because as an android he clearly has the potential to physically and mentally overcome his human peer.

On a larger scale, rivalry is also present in the conflict between mechas and humans. A common theme in science fiction involving robots is the feeling of inferiority: robots, being more physically and mentally capable than humans, will render their biological counterparts inferior. In general, it seems that this fear is an extension of human dependence on technology and the anxieties that such a trend inevitably generates. It is apparent to the audience that in the world of A.I., this feeling of potential inferiority leads to tension between mechas and humans. In essence, though, the fear of inferiority is simply the root of rivalry, since rivals form as an individual views someone else as a threat. Humanity, then, has recognized mechas as a threat to its superiority, and thus a rivalry forms.

Real vs Fake

The driving conflict of society -- albeit a one-sided one -- in A.I was that between humans and mechas. Thus, the division between human and machine was a significant element of the film, and it even surfaced as a dilemma to the audience, which is positioned to sympathize with machines. In its simplest terms, this separation of man and man-made is the question of what is real and what is fake, or "real" vs "copy". Naturally, the audience will identify humans as "real" and mechas as "fake," but Spielberg relentlessly attacks this position throughout the film, trying not so much to shake the reality of humans but instead the artificiality of mechas. This primarily done by making the protagonist a machine, and at that a child. In doing so, the audience cannot help but sympathize with David as though he were human; at times, it is easy for one watching the film to forget that David is not a human. One of the most fundamental ways in which Spielberg tricked the audience into this illusion was having David appear human. Naturally, then, this raises the question: if something looks human and acts human, what makes it other than human?

Another way to shake the impression of "fakeness" from the audience was to convince it that mechas could approximate humanity on more than a superficial level. Simply watching the movements and appearance of David might convince one that mechas could be fashioned in human form and could be programmed to emulate human behavior, but by having machine characters in the film express emotions, Spielberg was indicating that mechas were also mentally alike to humans. In doing this, another question is raised: if something can think and feel like a human, what makes it other than human?

Collectively, these questions regarding how close to human a robot must be before it is effectively human is related to the notion of human enough, in which the argument arises that robots can be considered human once they are reasonable approximations of humanity. Evidently, the definition of a "reasonable approximation" may vary, but A.I. seems to indicate that an android like David is indeed human enough. A.I. internally represents the loss of "fakeness" through the character of Monica. Initially, she is hesitant to embrace David as a new son, but once he conveys emotions toward her, she cannot help but accept him as being other than simply hardware. This acceptance extends as far as saving David from potential deactivation and, as the conclusion of the film suggests, centuries.

Connection to other works

Sherry Turkle

A.I. dwells extensively on the formation of emotional bonds between humans and nonhumans. This was a theme Sherry Turkle has researched extensively; although she originally held less reservations about the role of technology in human life, more recent works by Turkle express concern over the roles robots have begun to fill in human life. Whereas Turkle may see the development of a maternal relationship with an android (such as between Monica and David) as an acting of pouring emotions into thin air, A.I seems to suggest that the bond formed between man and machine is palpable. In any case, the film brings to life many of the scenarios Turkle has postulated in her research.

Neuromancer

The immediate similarity between Neuromancer and A.I. is the common hostility toward artificial intelligences with capabilities approaching those of humans. In the novel, the Turing Police was an agency whose goal was solely to prevent the unrestricted development of artificial intelligences, in the name of preserving the human race. This implies that denizens of Neuromancer artificial intelligences as capable of altering humanity in some detrimental way. Likewise, A.I depicted a culture in which mechas were met with fear, disgust, and hatred.

Another similarity between these two works can be seen in the androids. Throughout the movie, they seemed to be eerily humanistic. This is very similar to the AIs in Neuromancer. Both seemed to portray different human characteristics throughout the book that correlate with the android presence in the movie.

Schismatrix

Sterling permeated Schismatrix with the question of what defines humanity. For his novel, this dilemma arose due to the impending emergence of posthumans. However, a similar theme (as discussed in the previous section) also appears in A.I due to the emergence of androids that are eerily human. 

Flesh Made Word

In the short story Flesh Made Word, the main protagonist is faced with a decision about his own A.I, which in this case is a replica of his wife. Like the family in A.I, Wescott has replaced a loved one that had been lost with a copy, hoping that it would fill a void in his life. Unlike A.I, Wescott refuses to get rid of his A.I even when it is outdated.

References

to be expanded

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