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Robotic Religion

Earlier this week I watched Automata, a science fiction drama starring Antonio Banderas about a world where robots, employed as domestic servants, are on the verge of evolving to a new level of intelligence and self-awareness.  In other words, it's a robot movie where the twist is that they act exactly like the robots from every other robot movie.


It's not bad, but it's not especially good, either.  Some great set design, interesting ideas, and mostly decent acting don't make up for the fact that it has a plodding pace and often feels dumbed-down.  For example, an opening title card tells us that the world has reverted to "older" technology... but it's a movie about robot servants that's set in a city filled with holographic lap dances.  "Old," in this case, seems to refer only to the pagers that everybody carries around with them.  Which, honestly, comes across as more of a social affectation, like some kind of neo-hipster trend.  You think people in 2042 are going to set aside their Psy-Link software to bring back the Atari 2600?  I really hope they do.

Anyway.

I didn't really want to write about the movie today - I've pretty much already said everything I wanted to say about it - but it reminded me that I have a hard time accepting most movies about robots.  A lot of times, I think it's because none of them seem to get at the messages or themes that I want to address in the robot story that I've been meaning to write for... oh, about ten years now.  (I'll get to it some day.)

I realize that's not an especially fair criticism.  I should be reviewing and reacting to the story that is and not the story I want to tell.  It's like ordering a steak in a restaurant and then sending it back because you were somehow expecting to get a plate of baked potatoes.

Nevertheless, I have a knee-jerk feeling of disgust when I watch robot movies that don't hit the note I keep hearing in my head.  It's bizarre; it's almost like I'm personally offended.  I think it's because robots are, in many ways, the closest thing I have to a religion.

Here's my rambly way of breaking this down

I believe there is no such thing as human permanence, not even through artistic creation.  Nor are human beings capable of understanding any greater meaning to existence beyond what meager goals we set for ourselves in our short, impermanent time on the planet.  But we are capable of producing technologies that no other known life form can create.

So, if anything could possibly transcend the limitations of our fragile bodies, it would be some kind of artificial intelligence that would self-perpetuate, evolve, and achieve a concept of purpose we could never hope to realize.  Thus armed and actualized, this AI could further branch out and leave the Earth, perhaps kicking off an infinite voyage through space - and who knows, maybe even time - in search of fulfillment of a quest we would never even know.

When you put it like that, it seems like the only real reason for human beings to be on the planet is to put things in order for whatever comes after us. If we're lucky, that will be awesome science-fiction robots.  If we're unlucky, it'll be, I don't know, super-dogs or something.

So rather than fearing the rise of AI and the apocalyptic robot revolution, I welcome it.  If you ask me, the creation of self-aware AI would be the culmination of all human endeavor; the greatest thing we could ever hope to do and the best case scenario for how our species ends.  It should be what we want to achieve.  Whether the self-aware robots choose to kill us or not doesn't really matter - the point is that we would create something better than us, and it would live on.

Of course, this assumes that we could get past the vast technological and practical limitations of trying to replicate millions of years of biological evolution using man-made materials, which would be a feat of such extraordinary scientific achievement that expecting it to happen anytime soon requires as much faith as believing in the Noah story, so... yeah, I guess my hope for a Robot Future is somewhat religious.

So with all that being said, it bothers the ever-living fuck out of me any time a robot movie ends up being a bunch of pissy humans moaning about how they might die.  Who gives a shit, guy?  You made robots.  You are God.  You have achieved all you can possibly achieve.  What else is there?

My take?  Maybe if we try not being a dick to our robot children, they'll at least put us up in the spare bedroom instead of sending us to the old folks home.  Metaphorically speaking.