Sunday 24 June 2018

Film Review: More Human Than Human

What does it mean to live in the age of intelligent machines? Two documentarians set out to find out.

For over a century, science-fiction cinema has heralded a future populated with synthetic robots and artificial intelligence, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and everything in between. In their 78-minute documentary More Human Than Human, filmmakers Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting attempt to condense this abundance of ideas into a single streamlined premise; could a robot replace a filmmaker?

In partnership with a robotics lab, Pallotta and Wolting set to work rigging up a ‘camera bot’ that can read faces, frame its subject and pose questions to the ‘interviewee’, which in this case is Pallotta. In parallel to this, the documentarians scour the globe for case studies relating to the current state of artificial intelligence, conducting interviews and learning more about current innovations in the field.

While this pattern – cutting between case studies and the unfolding lab project – helps to structure the film, the two strands don’t exactly mesh. While the main premise is interesting, it doesn’t have the same pull as the varied experiments that are touched on to flesh out the runtime, with the filmmakers meeting and discussing AI with everyone from Garry Kasparov, the infamous chess maestro who was defeated by a computer, to a London courier who is a slave to an app that sends her tasks and rates her performance via an algorithm.

Pallotta and Wolting touch on Cambridge Analytica, Brexit and the 2016 US election, Siri and its ability to help children on the autism spectrum and lonely pensioners who have found comfort in a trial program that pairs them with chatty child-like robots. Richard Linklater and Billy Crudup even drop by to ‘shake hands’ with the robotic rig in the lab, throwing shade at Michael Bay in the process. As such, More Human Than Human covers a lot of ground adequately, but never digs deep enough to prove truly unsettling or insightful.

A lot of what the film discusses is skin-deep or strangely humorous, which I don’t think was the intention – a scene where an AI academic recounts how he was catfished by a Russian chat bot only illustrates the former’s gullibility rather than the latter’s intelligence. An encounter with a British roboticist who calls acting “the easiest job in the world” and has set himself the task of making Brad Pitt redundant is framed with total sincerity, but comes across as a tad deluded. 

The Verdict: 5.5/10

All told, this tidy film makes you think but is not all that memorable.

More Human The Human will screen at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival from July 5-18. 

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