THE TRUTH ABOUT KILLER ROBOTS

Becoming Obsolete

(The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival ran September 6-16 in, you guessed it, Toronto, Canada. Hammer to Nail had boots on the ground in the form of lead critic Chris Reed and Matt Delman. Stay tuned as reviews keep rolling in…)

Before you get either too scared or overly excited, know this: there’s really only one case of a robot directly killing a person in The Truth About Killer Robots, the new film from documentarian Maxim Pozdorovkin (The Notorious Mr. Bout), and we learn about it right at the start. For the rest of the movie, what Pozdorovkin does, instead, is explore the many ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking over our lives, making us increasingly obsolete. It’s hardly a new argument, but Pozdorovkin assembles a variety of interesting research in his particular assessment of the future. We stand to lose perhaps not our lives but our sense of community as a species, thanks to both automation and ubiquitous technology that take over work processes and face-to-face interactions. Homo sapiens as we have heretofore known it is going the way of the dodo.

If that sounds dire, at least Pozdorovkin delivers the verdict with cinematic panache, sometimes allowing the robots, themselves, to make their case, starting with opening host Kodomoroid. From there, we wind our way through the film’s three sections, entitled “Manufacturing,” “Service Sector” and “Final Displacement.” Along the way, Pozdorovkin introduces us to fascinating talking-head experts (humans and AI), including roboticist Sami Haddadin (of Hannover University), CEO Julia Collins (of Zume Pizza), Japanese inventor Hiroshi Ishiguro and his creation Erica, and philosopher John Campbell (of UC Berkeley), among others, creating a vibrant conversation about current and evolving trends. We investigate Volkswagen and Foxconn factories, self-driving cars, hotels staffed entirely by robots, and so much more. Yes, there’s lot going in these last days of our race.

Perhaps the most captivating of the metaphysical ruminations is the one centered on the question of robot guilt and the famous laws of robotics put forward by science-fiction author Isaac Asimov:

 

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Are these enough to govern our latest and emerging inventions? Are they out of date? What will happen when, say, an AI-controlled weapons system is ordered to kill humans? We may find out sooner than we think. For now, we have Pozdorovkin to thank for raising the issue in this cogent, comprehensive way.

(The Truth About Killer Robots comes out through HBO Documentary Films  on November 26.)

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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