The Mitchells vs the Machines, AI and Netflix: have robots invaded the cinema?

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It’s a daring mainstream movie that really sticks it to Big Tech, but that’s what the zippy new animation The Mitchells vs the Machines claims to do. A broken family who prefers to spend time on their screens are forced to cooperate when evil robots take over the world. The robots are made by a nonchalant mogul as an upgrade from his ubiquitous “Pal” – a disembodied Alexa-like app, playfully voiced by Olivia Colman. Pal doesn’t take her rejection well, and being an omniscient, fully connected AI, she has options. Giving robots the ability to fire laser cannons from their hands could have been a bad idea.

Ironically, if Pal’s creator had spent more screen time, he would have known better. Movies have warned us for over half a century that artificial intelligence has an incurable habit of turning on us, especially if it doesn’t have its own body. From Kubrick’s 2001 and Colossus: The Forbin Project, the idea is transmitted virally through War Games, Terminator’s Skynet, the Matrix machines and Avengers’ Ultron. At best, you’ll have a moody on-board computer like Moon’s GERTY or an artificial lover like Scarlett Johansson in Her.

The Mitchells vs the Machines knows its history (there are stylistic cues to Tron), but it also connects the AI ​​phobia to our addiction to social media, which is dangerous territory. The film was originally made by Sony and intended for theatrical release, but due to the pandemic it was acquired by Netflix, a company for which screen addiction is sort of the model. commercial. A few years ago, Netflix’s recommendation algorithm – the technology that monitors what you watch and strives to give you more of the same, forever – was valued at over $ 1 billion a year. .

In its defense, Netflix also gave us The Social Dilemma, a documentary about the dystopian dangers of social media addiction, and Tau, a not-so-good thriller starring Gary Oldman as the voice of a smart home that’s getting too smart. The actual providers of Family Invasion, apps like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are also determined to colonize our viewing habits. Are these really the platforms for preaching big tech?

AI has been making its way into the industry for a few years now, including programs that predict the box office, advise on green light films, and even analyze scripts. Early experiments in fully AI-generated scripts produced devilish results (check out Oscar Sharp’s Sunspring and Zone Out), but the machines are learning. It may be a while before the AI ​​produces something as clever and savvy as The Mitchells vs the Machines. But then, a movie that satirizes social media, even if it draws viewers into even more screen time, isn’t it exactly what an AI could write? Maybe Netflix’s algorithm is already sensitive.

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