Monday, February 16, 2015


Code oil on linen 60 x 110 cm 2015
I've written about Code twice before HERE and HERE

There are a couple of movies coming out soon that I am really looking forward to seeing. One is called Chappie from District 9 director Neil Blomkamp.

And, another movie is called Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland.

Both tell tales of artificial general intelligence, robots and human reaction to these.

Both movies come at a time when serious discussions about artificial intelligence [AI] and artificial general intelligence [AGI] are occurring around the world. These discussions are taking place at the very pointy end of scientific and philosophical research*. There are not only potential advantages, but also perhaps major risks associated with the development of artificial intelligence and super-intelligence.What may have been considered scifi ten or more years ago, is no longer a tenant of the impossible. 

Last week I took myself off to see another movie... Kingsman: The Secret Service I loved it...a spy spoof, with Colin Firth as one of the leading characters! But, there are links to the discussion about technology's capability to transform/change humanity. In the movie a super-rich malevolent megalomaniac, attempts to take control of human free-will via implants and the ubiquitous 'smart' phone. In a way his deranged intelligence, coupled with his immense technological power, is a metaphor for the fear of AI and AGI gone array. We also see low Earth orbit satellite destruction, remote control of vehicles and a lot more techno gadgetry; much of it spoofing James Bond movies.

Yet, like a couple of other movies I have written about recently [Interstellar and The Hunger Games] Kingsman: The Secret Service channels fears of existential risk. It's not overt, but it pervades as a background resonance. Rather than spoiling the movie for those who have not seen it, all I will say is that existential risk caused by climate change is a catalyst for the story. This is essentially the same catalyst for the story that unfolds in Interstellar. Each movie takes entirely different story telling paths though!

The existential risks and fears associated with AI and AGI seem to drive Chappie and Ex Machina. I am particularly looking forward to Chappie as I have seen the preview shorts a few times and I am fascinated that even in a few minutes Chappie's 'personality' reached out to me. Chappie is an intelligent robot! But, even though Chappie is clearly a robot, the moviemakers have successfully utilised anthropomorphising techniques, beyond making it a biped with head and arms, to create a character with personality that is intelligent and seemingly sentient. For example, in the shorts, we see the robot engaging with a dog, just like a human would. And, we see the robot drawing, en plein air, a picture of a car that it is observing. Getting a robot to relate to an animal, particularly a dog [humankind's best friend], and creating 'art' are very clever ways to anthropomorphise! I gather that in Ex Machina a scene where the intelligent robot Ava is drawing is also pivotal. Yet, there is a danger in anthropomorphising robots, AI, AGI etc...I think anyway. By doing so we project ourselves onto the robot/AI...and I'd say that projection is a kind of wishful thinking with all its inherent blind spots!
Meeting Place Of The Mind Oil on linen 100 x 70 cm

I am keen to see what Chappie does with its drawing. I am also keen to see Ava's drawing. Why? Because there's drawing and then there's drawing! Yet, there must be something about art and creating art that we humans understand as an essential sign of  being human. So, if a machine can 'create' art then it must pass THE TEST [Turing Test]. But as I wrote above, there's drawing and then there's drawing...rendering something perfectly with technical and realistic virtuosity is not necessarily art or creative! What would happen if the robot/AI made a mistake, how would it problem solve? Indeed, maybe making a mistake would be another sign of human-ness?

* The 'pointy end' of research that I referred to above is taking place at such as The Centre For The Study Of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, Future Of Life Institute based in Boston and Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute


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