Sci-Fi Sunday: Deep Space Is a Weird and Lonely Place for Humans and AI Alike

The desolate reaches of deep space figure heavily in today’s sci-fi short film double feature. Space, as it turns out, is really big and empty. Until we get warp drive or discover a local wormhole—getting anywhere will be a long, lonely slog. The other thread tying the films together? They’re both by director Eli Sasich.

First up is HENRi. The film is like an episode of Life After People in space. What happens to a ship’s artificially intelligent computer after its crew dies? It gets melancholy, begins missing its human friends something terrible, and builds itself a robot body out of the ship’s rusty scrap and spare parts.

“My particular interest for this film was memory and its intrinsic relationship with consciousness,” Sasich writes in an article about the film’s making. “I also wanted a robot of my very own.”

HENRi is a slow burn. But the hero, assembled by robotic arms that wouldn’t be amiss in a modern factory, is worth the wait. I love its almost steam punk style—sort of Tim Burton meets 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If HENRi is brooding and thoughtful, Atropa is a classic space saga—complete with holographic chess—in which a lone starship captain encounters the lost research vessel Atropa.

The film is gritty, like Alien or Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Which is a nice retro touch. We’ll have none of your sparkling white surfaces and sleek starships thank you very much. No, space travel will be a long haul, more akin to a trucker going cross country than James Bond sipping martinis in a supersonic jet.

I’ve also always liked the idea of sparsely crewed ships. It seems reasonable such craft will be self-driving, only rarely requiring a human touch. Big crews, when they exist, will likely be  more about preventing space madness than handling the ship. Indeed, interstellar voyages may be a generational affair.

But I digress. The protagonist boards Atropa, wakes the crew from cryo—and things get weird. Enjoy!

Image Credit: Eli Sasich/Atropa/Vimeo

Jason Dorrier
Jason Dorrier
Jason is editorial director of Singularity Hub. He researched and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science and technology. He's curious about pretty much everything, but especially loves learning about and sharing big ideas and advances in artificial intelligence, computing, robotics, biotech, neuroscience, and space.
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