Chappie is not Deus Ex Machina

Chappie movie 2015Since 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.

 

Falling In Love With Artificial Intelligence

“I don’t think we think unless it is about me.” – Kurt Cobain

More than twenty years ago I wrote my first few lines of computer code using a language called BASIC. At university I studied Computer Science. After few years working in the IT industry, I did not enjoy working began exploring potential common grounds between psychology and technology.

Between 2004 and 2006 I conducted research surveys about online dating behaviour and this laid the foundation for the work I have been doing ever since. My own love affair with technology included those whom I hate to love (Web), as well as those whom I love to hate (Microsoft Windows) and those whom I hate unenthusiastically.

In time, my work brought me to the conclusion that we have become obsessed with ourselves in a way I had never imagined would be possible. Smartphones and “selfies” are now de rigueur all over the world from Cape Town to China. The “smart” in smartphones implies the early stages of artificial intelligence (AI) because the devices remember, learn and anticipate our behaviour. Siri on iPhone is the first attempt at AI for the masses.

What is the obsession with ourselves that drives us? What could be the drive that stimulates the increasing role of technology in our self-identity? We no longer look into the mirror to see our reflection, we look into our screens for validation: “iThink therefore iAm”

With the rise of the Internet we are falling in love with ourselves mediated through cyberspace. The machines we have created, the smartphones, the “androids”, are the real plug-in drug not television because they respond to our whims. Whereas television streams images into your mind, with your smartphones, you stream your life to the world like The Truman Show.

Joaquin Phoenix in movie Her (2013)After watching the movie Her (2013), I disagree with most reviews that it’s an exploration of a fundamental question “what is love?” We may as well ask are you in-love with with your favourite celebrity? This is fantasy, maybe even obsession, as in most cases we will never meet them.

We do not fall in love with another person, only with how they make us feel. We don’t even need to be with the them to fall in love – in fact it works better when we’re not. Put another way, we fall in love when we are remembering or imagining how they make us feel about ourselves. It’s always about the reflection principles.

Now, when we’re lonely it’s probably because we don’t like what we see in the reflection.

Someone once referred to falling in-love as the ultimate form of self-hypnosis. We have all become addicted to our emotions. The emotions is what gives us the experience, the stimulus to form our responses accordingly. It’s always about us, not them, at the deepest levels. It’s not a stretch say this is the road to narcissism.

There is a plethora of self-help literature that teaches you to love yourself first. I relied on this extensively during my life coaching sessions. My starting point was always: how can we expect other people to love us if we do not love ourselves first?

AI implies a computer system, which learns from us about us, and about its environment. It has been portrayed as dangerous or negative in films series like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” movies. But now we’re seeing a change in direction to a more personal experience with AI after Simone (Al Pacino) and Her (2013).

In sadness, there is loss, there is loneliness but never is there narcissism as we’ve come to know it on social media. Selfies – photos people take by themselves, of themselves – are encouraged. The experience is singular, alone, by yourself and for yourself. The audience, your followers and fans are the key to your validation, only when they click LIKE on your experiences, does it seem to become real.

So modern experience is limited and almost invalid until they are validated by others. This may be why it’s possible to fall in love with AI, because of the built-in validation or reflection. The feedback about yourself and who you are, and that you exist, maybe that you matter after all. So with AI, a human being is no longer needed to validate us.

Somewhere in the past it was acceptable, even taught that we don’t need anyone else to validate our existence. AI promises the perfect response to our stimulus. Allow me to conclude with a common Chinese saying adapted for AI, “Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it and it may be more what you asked for.”