Sci-fi films have a long history of speculating what the future might be like, seeking to understand what remnants of humanity will continue on when the world may undergo drastic change. More realistic projections focus on a pivotal period in the future, known as the Singularity, when technological growth will be so rapid and impact the world so deeply that human life will be transformed irreversibly. By definition, it's difficult to envision what that will look like, but how will things look right on the cusp of that key time in human history?
That question is at the heart of a feature film in production called I's. The film begins as the first artificial intelligence "wakes up", and it follows a bike messenger named Mason Turk who must make a critical, personal choice in the face of the last days of "civilization as we know it." Currently in post-production, writer/director Chris Edgette recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take some of the technical aspects of the film to the next level. Via email, Chris provided some further insight into what those funds will accomplish.
First, here's the trailer to the film:
First hearing about the technological singularity some 15 years ago, Chris was blown away. He realized that "it seems highly likely that we will be able to realize greater-than-human intelligence." He added, "The bit that really rocked my world, though, was the understanding that we really cannot know what a super-intelligence could or would do."
Setting out to make a film that dealt with these subjects presented its own challenges. "We try to respect the scientific ideas of the singularity," he wrote, "even though many of them could not be overtly communicated in the film."
What struck me about the singularity, though, was that the process of rapid escalation provides a mirror for us all. If we create a singularity that wipes away our reality entirely, have we won or have we lost, as a civilization, as a species? If it simply disappears, do we continue as before? Those last days, if one knew they were happening, would be both glorious and melancholy. We would stand on the threshold of the potential death of our civilization or its epic rebirth, with no way to see the outcome. We could console ourselves with the knowledge that we had at least birthed something entirely new to our corner of the universe, something with knowledge and understanding beyond our dreams. With that, there would be the somber understanding that we had displaced ourselves from the top of the intelligence heap on Earth.
How will we feel when we, the toolmakers, have invented the tool that can out-invent us? These questions drove the project.
The film does not view the singularity as something bad or good; the characters actually express a spectrum of views on what is about to take place. The reflection itself, however, is interesting fodder for a small independent film. When faced with a terminal illness, we wonder about what we have done in life: Was it enough? Was it right? What really did we do with our time? The singularity provides the same moment of reflection for our civilization in the last days.
You can also hear from the actors about the subject of the film in the video produced as part of the crowdfunding pitch:
The Kickstarter campaign set out to provide the final polish to the film and raise the production value. Thanks to over a hundred backers, the project's goal of raising $18,500 was met. Chris announced in an update that a first screening for the film was now scheduled for mid-October thanks to the efforts of the backers.
Now with just a few days left in the campaign, Chris has set a stretch goal of $25,000, which is slated to go toward improving the "the quality and interactivity of the augmented reality interfaces, allowing us to further explore the inner mind of the AI character." Extra funds received beyond the project's initial target will also improve the color timing to further professionalize the look of the film and the depth to the sound and music. All the funds are going to the film production, as Chris admitted that "There is no fat; I am entirely unpaid and the associate producer is now working for a percentage of the film returns."
Hollywood continues to churn out views of the future that are critical of technology and paint bleak, inhumane futures for its protagonists to struggle within, often with artificial intelligence depicted as a destroyer of humanity, whether metaphorically or physically. Chris underscored what makes this film unique in that regard: "We visualize the inside of an AI mind in a unique way...[and it] is not judged. For dramatic purposes, the AI begins as somewhat of a menace, but as the film ends, we realize that it is a being simply trying to do what we have done: create something greater."
But would facing the imminent Singularity provide a different view of life in the not-so-distant future?
Chris commented that "I really wanted to walk the line [between a techno-optimistic and techno-pessimistic view]. I did not want to rule on whether the technological singularity would be good or bad in a traditional sense....we also wanted to include both technological and anti-technological perspectives. The technological aspect is slightly amplified by the film's augmented reality, which isolates people as it connects them. An ecotopic commune provides the technological counterpoint, a point for deeper connection, and a place for the main character's decision about what to do with his remaining time. We tried not to idealize or criticize either space, but simply to reflect the oddity and range of human existence."
The Kickstarter ends on Aug 16. If you'd like to contribute to the film, you can head over to the site and make a donation.