Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
Do you remember the Tay Twitter bot? For those who don’t remember, this was a Twitter bot that Microsoft designed in order to try and get an AI to learn how to have a normal human conversation… and because they put this on TWITTER, that bot went from sweet and charming to full-on Nazi in under 24 hours. It was a quick lesson in how quickly an AI can learn and how that learning can be used to create something terrifying… and the limits and uses of AI make for an interesting time in the Sydney Underground Film Festival entry Origin Of The Species.
Origin of the Species is a cross between a standard documentary and a mood piece surrounding the world of robots and artificial intelligence. Covering things like the ways these robots are developed, how they’re designed to interact with humans and the various uses for these incredible creations, Origin of the Species not only looks at just what an AI robot could do but what their existence could mean for humanity.
From the very moment Origin of the Species begins, you’re thrown into a world of robots born in the uncanny valley and heavy moral implications around the use of said robots. While there are a lot of interviews with the people making the robots, the film opens with narration by one of the robots which creates this unnerving tone that creeps back in regularly throughout.
There’s a lot of times when Origin of the Species just leans into these strange off-putting images, maybe not even intentionally but it keeps just slipping into these places. From the moments where a robot meets the person it was designed after to the inside of a sex doll factory that only looks different from Leatherface’s freezer room by virtue of the fact that there’s no blood, imagery keeps popping up that makes the hair on your pathetic human arm stand on end.
Weaving through these moments of discomfort are some genuinely fascinating descriptions of what goes into creating these machines and why they should even exist. The work that goes into creating these beings is nothing short of incredible and, while we’re only shown a small amount of the actual required labour, you get the sense of how much there is going on in the creation of these things… and that’s before the film touches on the moral implications.
At a brisk 70 minutes, there really isn’t enough time to truly dive into the full implications of the subject matter and it’s a little noticeable that there’s more to be told. For example, the story I opened this review with is just one of a numerous examples of what AI learning can look like – but that’s really only barely skimmed over. Origin of the Species touches on the idea that the learning needs limits but doesn’t actually dive into why this is a problem, choosing instead to show clips from Stepford Wives or that Corridor Crew video where they pretended to beat up a Boston Dynamics robot to show the ways AI can go wrong. Is it a nitpick to point out that there was more to show that would’ve helped a lot? Sure, but we’re here to pick nits and that’s a big nit to pick.
Still, Origin of the Species is a fascinating film that explores a topic we’re all going to have to understand very soon. With the rise of AI robots, self-driving cars and other things like it perhaps it’s time we all spend at least an hour just learning about things like this… because if we don’t, well that’s how Terminator started. Do you want Terminator? Because ignoring how AI works is how you get a Terminator!