It Was Mother

It Was As

It Was As
Wayras Olivier
JUNE 2018

A S A SUBJECT, or as an object, more accurately phrased, A.I. is universally regarded as being a solvable mystery. Recall how clueless Microsoft was about the Frame Problem and value-alignment when it released Tay into the Twitterverse in 2016. Ostensibly programmed as a virtuous blank slate, how puzzled they were when Tay, within hours, became a practitioner of conversant hate. Ethics and intelligence, of course, do not go hand in hand. Paradoxically, the former can even be scrutinized if one looks too deeply into the latter. Recall The Bell Curve, that controversial book about I.Q., amongst other things it examined the positive and negative deviations from the mean, to see which cultures were more favorably predisposed to ‘G.’ Asians appeared to have a slight edge in mathematics but the academic mainstream were having none of that. To publish such a study was regarded as an indefensible act of mercenary white privilege and the book’s author, Charles Murray, was crucified.

Intersectionality and critical theory, the stepbrother and stepsister of white privilege and identity politics, may soon find a more oppressive force in university classrooms called ‘robot privilege’ given the great strides in artificial intelligence and the current rate and speed at which they are being made superior. Virtually and universally agreed upon, although the idea has a few critics, artificial intelligence will far surpass the intelligence of the organic creators who gave it life.

How to define ‘life,’ however, is the problem to begin with. And where one is torn between Spielberg’s unrealistic handling of A.I. and the fantasies one harbors had Kubrick lived to handle A.I. realistically, one can find comfort in the intelligence of Spielberg’s interpretation. (After all, many sophisticated theories have, over the years, been made about the etymology of HAL, the name of the cold and indifferent super intelligence in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and many disquieting murmurs of disappointment soon followed once it was discovered that HAL is simply the preceding three letters of IBM.)

It’s awfully Maslovian, perhaps even naïve, to suggest that a robot embodied with a theory of mind would seek out a personal drama, a drama that can only come from climbing a hierarchy of human needs. Note that in this film only one human is killed at the hands of another human with the expressed intent of framing a robot. Spielberg is tacitly commenting on what prevents humans from reaching the top of Maslow’s canonical hierarchy of needs, namely the inability to observe and adopt as their own, Asimov’s enduring three laws:

“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

Perhaps the towering Russian writer’s laws are too reaching, but A.I. remains a worthy alternative to the eminent and exceptional Ex Machina, for the sole reason that David, A.I.’s protagonist, is able to grasp his own mystery. A subject that Dostoevsky— another Russian giant— once solved too when he grabbed the object of existence and examined the pain of a human not getting it, “What is hell?” he once asked himself. “I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”