Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Thing: Artificial

Why hasn't anyone written a 'good' AI movie before? We've seen lots of films where creepy artificial intelligences stalk and kill people via food processors (and a few reasonably famous films about AIs using humans as batteries). But not so much with exploring the idea that humans creating another form of sentient life might be a good thing. It's all Frankenstein and dystopias and the dark future. Well, how about having a bright future?

So I want to write that story and I think I've got a way to do it.

Artificial is a low-budget science fiction film - and, in an attempt to not lose a quarter of my readers with that statement, it's got a modern-day, real-world setting and a strong focus on characters.

In fact it's a love story. I didn't realise this when I first came up with for Artificial; I thought it was going to be about the changes that happen to society once AIs are released into the wild, and about the philosophical clash between two computer programmers - one who's optimistic about the future vs. one who's pessimistic, suspicious, and vigilant about what will happen when their team creates an artificial intelligence. Both these women have strong relationships with the AI (one respectful; the other, darkly glowering and paranoid).

If I were a cleverer writer, I'd make the love story be between the AI and the paranoid pessimist. But I'm after something much simpler I'm afraid - and between the story of an optimistic programmer and her impossible yet deepening love for the million lines of code contained inside a metal box, the clash of the whole human race's hopes and fears playing out in microcosm between the optimistic and the pessimistic programmers, *and* a story (that feels mythic) about the creation of a race of artificial intelligences ... well, with all of that I'm feeling like this will be a fun script to write.

How does this sound to you? Is it something you've seen before? (I'm fairly sure there are novels about it, but not movies - as far as I'm aware). Express your thoughts!

(And if you're interested in more, I have heavily inspired by this article by David Brin.)


Stephanie said...

I was going to cite "The Bicentennial Man" as a movie, but it gets referenced in your David Brin article and I never actually watched it (looked too corny), although I really liked the story.

"The Silver Metal Lover" by Tanith Lee is a really good book about someone falling in love with a robot. And Asimov's robot books were ultimately optimistic, even when he was looking at the dark side.


Emma said...

I really like this idea.

I too would like to see the pessimist fall in love, but I get what you're saying about that. And I think that this will be in some ways better and it will be much easier to avoid the usual AI negativity. Which I think is fantastic. As you know I don't really enjoy being creeped out. A corollary to that is that I love really good love stories that are somewhat unusual.

The thing that immediately pops into my mind is that the protagonist is falling in love with herself (itself), its creation AND the pessimist. I absolutely think that their creation will be greater than the sum of its parts but I'm interested in hearing more about how you think that the pessimists role in the creation of the AI will play out and how it will change the relationships between all three. Or at least I will be interested in that when watching if that's too complex a question for now.

I would totally watch this. I love movies about AI and I think that this one would be interesting in the ways in which others are not.

Karen said...

Had you thought about the relationship between the twow wome... they're collaborating on the same project, but is it a commercial project? Academic? Government research institute Defense?

From my world, I immediately imagined this as a supervisor/team leader with a post-doc or grad student(that could go either way... burnt out older progerammer vs bright young thing OR idealist scientist type vs younger "pragmatist" doing her time)... Could be interesting if the pessimist had the power to take the optimist off the project for getting to involved. Are they even working at the same site? How many other people are involved on the project (in my observation, teams for this kind of thing are usually big)?

And what is the purpose of the AI? Are they making it for the beauty of it, or is are they part of another endevour... machine learning to further a scientific or social objective?

[I love this idea too... I REALLY understand the falling in love with your work thing... even though mine has never interacted with me to quite that extent. Not being a research scientist any more "broke my heart" in a weirdly ongoing way, but I know that if I (had) try(ed) to save my career I'll be torn between that and my kids again]

Karen said...

um... two women :-)

Helen Rickerby said...

What is your conflict? I guess that's why robots usually go bad - it's the easy conflict. That said, the kid in AI didn't go bad - it was the movie itself that did.

Emma said...

Ha ha. Helen. Hilarious.

I think that the kid went creepy, if not exactly bad. That look he had when he tilted his head to try and understand chilled me to the BONE.

Steve Hickey said...

Emma and Karen, I am stoked to hear you like this idea. I'm also interested in the thing you've both pointed out: that she is falling in love with something she's created. Properly dramatised, that

@ Emma: You said you're interested in hearing more about how you think that the pessimist's role in the creation of the AI will play out and how it will change the relationships between all three. The pessimist's role in the early stages of the AI's creation is pretty well defined in my head - it's extremely negative (you could almost define it as murderous). I'm going to be outlining this over the next few days, and I'll put a bit more thought into this develops.

@ Karen: Those are great questions. I do have a relationship in mind - that the optimist is younger and more heavily involved in the coding, while the pessimist is newer to the team but more respected. I'll have a think about some of the permutations you've suggested in your comment. It's also obvious from what you've written that I'll have to make some decisions about who's paying the bills (and I like the options you've provided).... One thing I'm looking forward to with this project is reading some stuff about where the science of AIs is at right now. For instance, your comment about the size of the team hadn't really occured to me

@ Steph: Thanks for the Tanith Lee recc. I've been interested in her for a while; this sounds like the excuse I need to start checking out her stuff.

Steve Hickey said...

Hi Helen,

Good question. At the moment I think I have three inter-personal conflicts and one societal conflict. There's an impossible love story, a philosophical clash between the women, and the AI trying to win over a woman who hates him. All three of those combine to represent (in microcosm) the clash between human civilisation and AIs.

I want to explore these through the outlining process. Usually I find that if a script's any good, I find out what it's about through writing it (rather than pre-deciding).

And I'm excited about Artificial, because for the first time these relationships are clear to me (and not obscured by a huge ensemble or structural tricks in the script). I'm fascinated to find out what writing this would be like.

Karen said...

Wondering about this as a movie? How will it look? Unless there are robots, AI doesn't involve intrinsically cool-looking tech (not like the LHC or a synchrotron or a radio telescope)... sadly computers these days don't look like HAL... so will this movie be visually different from a relationshippy movie set in an office or university? Will it have a futuristic science fiction feel?

Yeah... I think I'm a bit obsessed with who pays the bills for any kind of research... it affects everything from the quality to whether and how it is published...

Steve Hickey said...

In my head, it's modern-day with offices, big glass windows, and a bit academic. Your comment about computers looking not particularly cool reminds me of Duel - where Speilberg selected the truck that had the most personality to star on screen. This may give me an excuse to look at the cool array of computer boxes out there. (Also, I think the way the AI communicates and interacts with the world evolves as the movie goes on.)