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‘Do You Trust this Computer?’ is the year’s scariest film

Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer

The scariest film I’ve seen in 2018 isn’t Hereditary, it isn’t A Quiet Place or Unfriended: Deep Web. No, the scariest film I have come across this year is Chris Paine‘s documentary, Do You Trust this Computer? The new documentary is about A.I. (artificial intelligence) and the impact it has on our daily lives. Whenever we hear about A.I. in the media and in film, where evil computers threaten to destroy all human life like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator and The Matrix.  Science fiction has long anticipated the rise of machine intelligence from the likes of H.G. Welles, but were these simply stories of fiction aimed to scare us, or should we have perceived them as a warning?

It’s hard to imagine a life without our smart phones, laptops, and Alexa. However, perhaps we are less aware of the amounts of data being collected, interpreted, and fed back to us in a series of targeted advertisements. Today, a new generation of self-learning computers is reshaping every aspect of our lives. Virtually every industry on earth feels this transformation and is adapting in order to survive, from job automation to medical diagnostics, elections to battlefield weapons. Do You Trust This Computer? explores the promises and perils of this developing era and asks the ultimate question: will A.I. usher in an age of unprecedented potential, or prove to be our undoing?

A number of individuals belonging to the tech world are interviewed for the film, such as Ray Kurzweil, IBM Watson’s lead developer David Ferrucci, Shivon Zilis, and Google Brain co-founder Andrew NG. However, there’s one man who seems the most vocal, Elon Musk. Musk has previously stated that he thinks there is a very high chance A.I. will end us, and this documentary goes a long way towards explaining how that might happen. During an interview about  his involvement with the film, Musk states that “[Director] Chris [Paine] and his team have done an amazing job with this movie. It’s a very important subject that will affect our lives in ways we can’t even imagine — some scary, some good. It’s a subject that I feel we should be paying close attention to. I think it’s important that a lot people see this movie, so I’m paying for it to be seen to the world for free this weekend.”

Musk is an intelligent man, but his warnings seem a little over-dramatic, and perhaps this is where the documentary lost me, but it’s all very entertaining, if not alarming. Musk cautions that evil tyrants of the past were limited by the fact they were human, a problem not shared by intelligent supercomputers. “You would have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape,” he says in the film. It is worth adding that many experts have acknowledged the possible threat of superintelligence, but are quick to add the technology we have right now is not able to create conscious machines and A.I. could create many more pressing dangers to society, like algorithmic policing and automated surveillance.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the documentary is the discussion about how Cambridge Analytica used AI to manipulate the 2016 election, which is truly shocking stuff and this is the stuff I rather not know about. I also found it amusing how the documentary mentioned the incident with, Microsoft’s chatbot the internet turned into a hate spewing Twitter troll within 24 hours of its release. Perhaps most disturbingly, the documentary looks at the rise of autonomous weapons. While the risks of A.I are acknowledged in the film, no one seems to have a plan on how to deal with it getting out of hand, and perhaps that’s what frustrated me the most. Surely someone must have the answer?

Despite its short run-time (just 90 minutes), the film is wide in scope, covering everything from robotic surgery and self driving cars, to autonomous weapons and humanoid robots. The overarching theme is captured adequately in its title, but unfortunately Paine is unable to satisfactorily answer his own question, and perhaps bites off more than he can chew. This really deserved to be a lot longer (perhaps a TV series would be have been suitable?), but I still fully enjoyed myself. I found myself wary to click on the trust button when the message box came up later on during the day!

Although, we don’t have the ability to know exactly what will occur in the future, lets hope it isn’t all doom and gloom. Failing that, let’s hope by the time our evil A.I. overlords have taken over, Musk has found a way to take us to Mars!