Since I can remember I loved science fiction aka sci-fi stories. Maybe growing up on comic book superheroes helped. Usually Sci-Fi are stories without limits or boundaries. And yet the “science” part implies some possibility that it may happen, could happen, in some near or distance future. In recent years we’ve seen the excessive use of CGI – Computer Generated Imagery taken to a whole new level of realism.
Chappie (2015) is a new film by South African director Neill Blomkamp. Once again like District 9 it’s set in Johannesburg. Once you’re able to recruit A-list Hollywood actors like Matt Damon and Hugh Jackman to your films, you must be on your way up in Tinseltown.
Recently I watched Ex Machina, another film about Artificial Intelligence (AI). It was a very intellectual film, dark, slow, character driven. It explores the question of how we know whether a machine is intelligent or not, whether it’s conscious or not. The entire movie’s premise is based on what Computer scientists call the Turning Test.
Chappie on the other hand seems to be an action-oriented film with little character development. It relies on the genre the director is known for featuring guns and explosions. The programmer, the maker of Chappie is Deon (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire). He is a frustrated engineer working for a military corporation, which has successful sold the South African government on using robots to police the streets of Johannesburg.
As someone who lived in Joburg for more than 10 years the setting was very familiar. However, the easy with which Chappie seems to solve the problem of consciousness leaves little to the imagination or the deep thinkers among us. The IMDB thread comparing these two AI movies released in 2015 is funny reading. All of them seem to miss the obvious elephant in the room: AI is the technocrat’s wet dream.
Technocracy can loosely be defined as ruling society by technology. Brave New World author, Aldous Huxley, a convincing argument in favour of scientific dictatorship vs military dictatorship. Simply put
Good arguments are made for the depth and superficial nature of both movies when looking beyond the immediate settings. I do agree that punk rock band, Die Antwoord – Ninja and Yo-landi, are very irritating during key parts of the film. I don’t enjoy their music nor the genre, so they don’t impress me much as Shania Twain once said.
Chappie may have it’s flaws and yet it tries hard to generate empathy for the robot who suddenly discovers it’s consciousness, let alone it’s mother, father and creator. The plot is not conducive to exploring metaphysical questions like Ex Machina does gracefully. Different strokes for different folks.