Review: Hi, AI
by Marta Bałaga
- In her documentary, Isa Willinger doesn’t need to call on Arnie to show the rise of the machines
Robots and artificial intelligence aren’t exactly a new subject, with filmmakers, fiction and documentary alike, trying their best to look at the topic from every possible angle. Especially since all the “ifs” have been replaced by “whens”, with the technology developing so fast that there is no other possibility but to accept it. As such, Isa Willinger’s Hi, AI – recently shown at the Trieste Science+Fiction Festival – might not strike us as particularly original, or even the best made, for that matter, but it’s still very, very watchable. Not to mention it has a surprise or two up its sleeve, opening with a visit to the dentist, of all things, which is apparently just as scary, with the unfortunate AI relegated to the patient’s seat this time around.
Visiting labs and ordinary households alike, Willinger shows many different robots – some still in development, others taking their first steps or already waiting to be “adopted”. These are robots created, it has to be said, to meet very different needs: from the “girlfriend experience”, as in the case of a lonely man called Chuck and his blonde companion Harmony, clearly an answer to all of the motivational post-it notes left all over his place, to a little white fellow brought home by a Japanese family, much like some stray puppy. “You are here so I don’t become senile,” says their very practical matriarch, perfectly aware that “Pepper” will be the only one to keep her company once everyone else is gone. It’s a bit like in that Frank Langella vehicle Robot & Frank, then, although Pepper’s conversational skills, revolving around tidying up for some reason, could sure use some improving.
Clearly very curious to find out more from the creators and early adopters, Willinger revels in documenting these odd attempts at communication, with clunky, dictionary-like explanations popping up regularly, but also sentences that could easily be taken as a profound emotional exchange. It all culminates in a robot reciting Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” in a thick Irish accent.
Such moments, ultimately saying much more about the people that take them in (or our damned loneliness in general) than any technological breakthrough, can be interesting, but also rather scary – like having a robot suddenly ask if humans can dream, somehow echoing the title of that famous Philip K Dick novel and proving that, as stated in the film, we live in a strange world. And it appears to be getting stranger. “The existence of artificial intelligence that rivals human intelligence raises difficult ethical issues,” says one of them to its owner, matter-of-factly. “Thank you for sharing that,” goes the unimpressed response, and for all her time-consuming research, Willinger seems to be nodding along, realising that perhaps there simply aren’t any answers just yet.
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