Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Do You Trust This Computer? The Singularity is Right Around the Corner

First it was Deep Blue, then it was AlphaGo. The next step is Skynet and the rise of the machines. That is pretty much how all the experts see the future, according to this doom-and-gloom documentary. It is too late to close the barn door, but we can still make the futile gesture according to Chris Paine’s Do You Trust This Computer? (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Yes, the Singularity is pretty darned scary and yes, it is closer than we would like to think. As is usually the case, it is mostly Google’s fault. They have spent gazillions on artificial intelligence to generate those annoying “smart search” suggestions. Of course, we have no idea what other applications they might have in mind. One thing everyone seems to agree on is the inevitability of AI-driven battle drones that can attack at will, sort of like self-driving cars, but with machine guns and light projectile explosives.

So, isn’t that all very unsettling? Basically, that vague sentiment is the general thesis of Paine’s scattershot film. There are a lot of frightening predictions in DYTTC, but it is presented like a buffet of singularity horror stories—a little bit from here and a little bit from there and before you know it, humanity is toast. Tellingly, one talking head informs us with all due seriousness that no government regulations have ever been applied to the research and development of artificial intelligence, but he never suggests what those regulations ought to be, so what’s the point?

The question “now what?” definitely hangs over the film, rather distractingly, but it also lacks a consistent through-line or driving concept. Essentially, this film is a collection of people Paine likes (such as Elon Musk, who also appeared in his far superior Revenge of the Electric Car). Granted, if the concept of the Singularity is new to viewers than Paine’s film will probably strike them like a revelation of Biblical proportions. However, anyone who is well-versed in A.I. futurism, especially those like Ray Kurzweil (also heard from briefly) who take a more optimistic view of things, will find the film rather stitched-together, shallow, and not particularly cinematic looking.

At least Paine and company think the extinction of mankind would be a bad thing. That might sound like faint praise, but the increasing number of end-of-the-world-Singularity films arguing mankind had it coming and was no great loss anyway has been downright disturbing. Can we still save ourselves? Any ideas are welcome at this point. Maybe next time, Paine could ask for some. Despite the timeliness of its message, Do You Trust This Computer? simply is not sufficiently well-put-together to recommend (AlphaGo is a much better film that addresses the future of AI far more engagingly and comparatively more optimistically). For those with a deep interest in the subject matter (cheers for them), it opens this Friday (8/17) in New York, at the Cinema Village.