Consciousness and pop stuff

AI (2001)

Posted in Consciousness-as-property by Trevor on October 13, 2009

This movie looked great on paper. Kubrick started it, Spielberg took over, based on a good story by a reputable author. It’s got many of my favourite things – robots, philosophy, artificial intelligence and Frances O’Connor (“Caaaaaaaaaaarn Austrayaaaaaaaaaaaa!”).

But somehow it turned out to be shite from the anus of Satan. Why? I dunno, I’m not a film critic. But leading specialists agree that it was very long and boring.

But I’m not here to praise or bury the movie but to discuss its philosophy. In brief, it’s set in the future, a young boy gets a bad disease so the family put him in deep freeze, hoping for a cure one day. Then they buy a cutting-edge robot boy called David, played by professional creepy-boy actor, Hayley Joel Osment, to take their son’s place. The robot is pretty good but it isn’t quite right; he doesn’t understand the nuances of what’s said to him, he unintentionally becomes dangerous when trying to defend himself and if he tries to eat food his face has a melt-down.

Suddenly the original son gets better. David the weirdo isn’t quite fitting in, so the robot company decide to take him back and disassemble him. But his “mother”, played Frances O’Connor (Caaaaaaaaaaarn Austrayaaaaaa) takes pity on him. Even though she can’t quite bond with him, she doesn’t want him to die so she takes him and his AI-robot Teddy Bear out to the forest and leaves them there. He and the Teddy Bear wander around meeting people.

In the end, he sits at the bottom of the sea for 2000 years or something so that when he resurfaces, superintelligent beings have taken over the Earth and use superadvanced technology to bring back Frances O’Connor along with all her memories. They also make him into a real boy so that she will love him in a motherly way like he always wanted. Blah blah blah.

What’s odd about this film is that the robot boy isn’t quite able to understand or act like normal human. However everyone seems to overlook the fact that his little mentor, the wise Teddy Bear, is an artificial intelligence who can understand everything. While David the weirdy is still trying to work out if he’s supposed to breathe underwater or not, Teddy is engaging in witty repartee with the adults, smirking at ironic allusions, appreciating art, enjoying fine wine, and probably reading Middlemarch in his spare time. Why didn’t they just take out David’s brain and put the Teddy Bear’s in? Then Frances O’Connor would’ve liked him a lot more, and we wouldn’t have had to sit through the rest of this movie.

AI movie - creepy boy, smart Teddy, Frances O'Connor

Teddy, who is artificially-intelligent, attempts to explain something to David, who is artificially-a-bit-thick.

Anyway, the main thing is the Consciousness Verdict: AI presents a pretty unashamed Consciousness-as-Property view of consciousness. David might be a bit dim but he clearly feels things even though he’s an entirely artificial object. Audiences are encouraged to sympathise with his emotional plight. The other characters in the story believe he’s conscious; Frances O’Connor “rescues” him because she feels sorry for him. She seems to think he has feelings of some sort, even if they’re robot, rather than human feelings.

Did audiences find this believable? Was their sense of reality offended by the possibility of a boy robot who can feel sad and lonely? Actually it’s hard to say; they seemed okay with it, but whenever anyone talks about this movie, all they say is that it was dull. I suppose it didn’t offend people’s sensibilities enough for them to be annoyed by the idea. On the other hand maybe everyone just gave up caring. Hmmm, I’m going to go tentatively with the former – people were okay with it; it’s a vote of confidence in the Consciousness-as-Property model.


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