I recently got a chance to view Automata and had to give my thoughts on the movie based upon the current and future state of robotics and artificial intelligence. As a film, this was a tough one to sit through and won’t make any must see lists from me. Unless you’re really into Antonio Banderas, I’d skip this. My deep interest in robotics was the only reason I struggled and hung in to the end.
From a technology standpoint the films premise that robots seeking to repair themselves, have a consciousness is not as simple as it would seem. To me, self-repair is just a good algorithm and one that I see in the process automation industry regularly when a system clears a jam, or adjusts a flow rate due to over or underloading. While there is no universal test for self-awareness, like a Turing or mirror test, the premise that if a robot seeks to self-repair or self-mutilate itself, shows there is at least some level of consciousness.
In fact, in May 2014, Dextre and the Canadarm became the first robotic system to self-repair itself onboard the International Space Station. The future is already here, but I’m not so certain they will be taking over the earth. If I’m wrong, I still have a 200+ mile buffer and a seriously hot re-entry problem that the Canadarm has to overcome, should it seek to become a human overlord.
Take for example NAO or the soon to be released Pepper by Aldebaran. By recognizing facial expressions they can estimate human emotion. Is that a sign of intelligence or another really good algorithm? Research into human robot interaction often concludes how people believe that they have formed emotional connections with robots. Soldiers frequently develop emotional relationships with their robot companions, does that make them conscious? No! Intelligent, not really. Most of these machines are tele-operated and are extensions of the soldier, providing him with some added abilities (like infrared vision) and protection (distance from a blast perimeter).
The movie does end with a philosophical premise that as the human population on earth diminishes, robots evolve to carry the torch and recolonize earth. When we end, they begin. Perhaps that is where the movie should have started.