A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Christians have argued for centuries that God gave us free will, with all the potential for sin and pain that that entails, because he wanted children who would love him, and not mere robots who would do whatever they were programmed to do. But these days, as neurologists and psychologists develop maps of the brain, many people consider themselves machines. This has profoundly influenced how we understand such concepts as love, free will, and the soul.
The flip side of this mechanistic view of human nature has become popular in science fiction (the genre in which the implications of our scientific theories get fleshed out): to treating artificially intelligent machines as persons, with the same rights as people. These issues are explored in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a new film about a robot child who is programmed to love.
Steven Spielberg wrote and directed A.I. from a concept that Stanley Kubrick spent years developing (who died in 1999). Kubrick's concept was based, in turn, on the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss.
A.I. is set in a dystopic future, when global warming and rising oceans have drowned many of the world's cities, and married people cannot have children unless the government picks their names in a lottery. Robots of various sorts have existed for decades, serving as butlers, nannies, and prostitutes, but when the film begins, no one has yet created a robot for childless couples.
That all changes when Professor Hobby (William Hurt), an entrepreneurial scientist, proposes making android children to offer genuine love to the parents who adopt them. These children, he says, will have real emotions and even a subconscious mind, and they will have dreams and desires that were not built into them. At the same time, they will be hard-wired to give their adoptive parents a perfect, everlasting love.
One of Hobby's assistants asks whether the scientists, or the broader society, will have a moral responsibility to these robots, should they ever be rejected by their parents, but Hobby dismisses her concerns. After all, he says, "In the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?" Thus the film raises the disturbing, if not entirely original, question of whether creators, including God, owe anything to their creations, or whether they may abandon their creations at will.
The prototype for this new line of artificial children is named David, and he is played with a sometimes eerie sensitivity by Haley Joel Osment. David is sent to live not with one of the planet's many childless couples but with the parents of a real boy who is frozen in a cryogenic coma.
David's new mother, Monica (Frances O'Connor), objects that there can be no substitute for her son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who is, after all, not dead yet. But she quickly overcomes her objections, and although David's behavior is anything but natural, she activates the program that will bond David to her for the rest of his life.