Speculating what will cause our ultimate demise has been the stuff of science fiction for years—if it’s not aliens wiping out the human race, it’s probably robots.

This is a proven trope that keeps moviegoers flocking to the likes of Independence Day, Ender’s Game, The Terminator, or The Matrix. To deviate from the norm takes a little extra work, but one way directors can suggest a different route is with a short format proof-of-concept sales pitch.

Created with nearly $40,000 in Kickstarter funding, “Rise” is a short film aspiring to feature length. Its central theme is to Terminator what District 9 was to Independence Day. According to “Rise,” the future of sentient robots is just as dark and violent as ever, but in this case, it’s our mistreatment of our own creations that’s stoking the flames.

"We know how to unwelcome a species," a narrator intones. "We can do so without guilt; without mercy. You aren’t flesh. You have no soul. We can be so effective with your eradication because I know deep down in my heart I am not murdering. This is a recall."

"Rise" isn’t the first time we’ve peered into the future of AI, and instead of finding an irresistibly oppressive force, we see it's us humans mistreating robots. But it's a more interesting exploration into human-robot relations than other, more predictable robot villain stories.

Our track record with each other is far from spotless, and already, there are examples of humans mistreating robots (eg., hitchBOT's doomed trip across America). Of course, today's robots are still pretty rudimentary. But as it gets more difficult to define what separates biological and artificial intelligence, the argument they're “just machines” will have to be re-examined.

That said, despite our darker tendencies, humans are a varied bunch.

As often as we feel uncomfortable or fearful about robots, we also feel empathy towards them. A recent Boston Dynamics video showing a humanoid robot being knocked down (to demonstrate how it can get back up) made some people feel a little sorry for the bot. Also, studies have shown humans do feel empathy for human-like robots.

And even though fully sentient bots aren’t due for quite awhile yet—the film's 2017 timeline is pretty aggressive—there are some people who (admittedly, somewhat tongue-in-cheek) would set up robot rights groups. There’s even a subreddit (botsrights) dedicated to the topic.

Maybe we will spark the coming robot war by oppressing our creations, or maybe the future will be more nuanced than today’s visions of it. In any case, we’ll likely see the saga played out over and over on the big screen. So, it’s always refreshing to get a more original take on it.


Image credit: David Karlak/Rise/Vimeo

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.