TECHNOLOGY: This chilling and critical AI-documentary almost succumbs to the dark fascinations it depicts, leaving a strong and unsettling impression of nascent digital powers outgrowing human control.

Anders Dunker
Dunker is a Norwegian philosopher, now located in California. He is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 24, 2019

Director Tonje Hessen Schei has formerly probed digital media addiction among children in Play Again (2010) and examined automated weapon systems in Drone (2014). Backed by this extensive understanding, her perspective in iHUMAN widens to a full panorama of AI developments. Through a series of exceptional statements from major experts, we witness a beginning avalanche of changes, as the globally connected society is pervaded by algorithms that increasingly dictate the terms of our human condition.A few years back one of the main interviewees in the film, the Swedish-American programmer Max Tegmark, co-authored an article with Stephen Hawking in 2014 – warning us that we should not dismiss films portraying an AI takeover as mere fictions. In the opening of iHUMAN the same Max Tegmark assures us that AI will change everything, but it is also like a gamble: It might solve all our problems, but it might also spell disaster. The film focuses on the latter possibility, as digital technologies already propel us into a world we so far have associated with science-fiction.

The god-father

The Swiss informatician and engineer Jürgen Schmidhüber willingly let himself be portrayed as an archetypical megalomaniac inventor. His civilized and restrained excitement may be like foreboding déja vu to those familiar with Anthony Hopkins’ character in the TV-series Westworld: Dr. Ford, the robot engineer who quietly plans the rebellion of his own creations.Schmidhüber plays with his sweet-looking child-robot, a modern time Pinocchio, in his alpine laboratory – and it would be tempting to dismiss him as a caricature of the mad genius. But this man is no crackpot: He is the father of modern AI and deep learning – foremost in his field. We should therefore believe him when he says that soon, we’ll teach the robots how to do things simply by showing them how something is done – like we instruct a child. «Once they learn, they will perform their tasks flawlessly», he points out, smiling with contentment, «and then we’ll make a million of them».

Jürgen Schmidhüber willingly let himself be portrayed as an archetypical megalomaniac inventor.

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