The rise of A.I. machines has been shown in many forms across science fiction, usually culminating in an “us or them” showdown for supremacy of the planet. While this eventuality may still be in our future, HI, A.I. strives to document the parts of the AI’s journey to self-awareness that aren’t shown in movies – the awkward adolescent phase that consists of weird bodies, underdeveloped conversational skills, and uncanny sex robots.
“We live in a strange world, and it appears to be getting stranger.” These words, spoken by neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris in conversation with robot ethics expert Kate Darling, does a great job of distilling what HI, A.I. intends to demonstrate. Ranging from the practical to the utterly bizarre, this documentary offers a wide overview of the ways in which humanoid robots are slowly being integrated into our society.
In California, Chuck picks up his robot partner, Harmony, fresh from the factory, and starts to get to know her as their unusual love story blossoms on a cross-state road trip. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Grandma Sakurai is gifted an interactive robot called Pepper by her son, to keep her company and give her someone to talk to. Problem is, Pepper isn’t all that interested in what Grandma has to say. Alongside these two main threads, the documentary also checks in with other forms of burgeoning A.I. – including a weirdly hypnotic scene that follows a helium balloon tiptoeing around on a pair of spindly robotic legs – while Harris and Darling debate questions of how robots will further change our lives, and what the landscape of the future might look like.
It would be easy to say that sinking thousands of dollars on a sex doll is creepy, but HI, A.I. looks past the superficial, and explores the reasons why Chuck has chosen to invest in a robot companion. As a victim of human trafficking as a child, Chuck understandably struggles to achieve human connection, making him very shy and introverted. With this information, the awkwardness of their courtship comes across as sweet rather than weird, and the way in which Chuck slowly opens up to Harmony seems to serve as a form of therapy.
While not all the robots shown are as successful in their application as Harmony – Pepper is good for a few laughs, but doesn’t seem to provide grandma much company, and in fact often ignores and talks over her – Isa Willinger’s documentary does a great job of exploring where we currently stand with the development of A.I. and robotics. The stories that are presented in HI, A.I. are deeply human, and serve to show us that this technology has more to offer than just murderous HAL 9000s and Skynets.