Arts & CultureCultural Affairs

Film tackles ethics of robotics

Roboticize Me
Where: CBC Doc Zone
Starring: Peter Keleghan
Directed By: Mark Cuttler and Jackie Carlos

In CBC’s new documentary, Roboticize Me, sexual ethicist Neil McArthur says he doesn’t think sex with robots is very far away. The Edmonton audience in the IMAX Theatre at the Telus World of Science guffawed at this proposition. There might be hope for humanity yet.

Roboticize Me premiered at the Telus World of Science on Jan. 20th and is currently available online through CBC DocZone. Hosted by Peter Keleghan (Ranger Gord on the Red Green Show), the documentary examines the cross-cultural considerations and the inexorable advancements of robotics. While the film offers detailed analysis into the current state of robotics, certain presentational flaws misrepresent the message it’s trying to convey.

The narrative starts in Japan, in a society embracing robots with a fervour that seems bizarre by our standards. The opening scene features Keleghan at a robot restaurant, in which colossal chrome robots dance jerkily beside scantily clad humans. Japanese culture, for reasons hardly mentioned, has a tendency to anthropomorphize their robots. A robotics professor featured in the film built a life-sized robot resembling himself, using his own hair on the robot’s head. He says he built the robot in order to observe humans objectively — whatever that means.

Keleghan returns to the West, and while the film clearly states that our culture certainly embraces technology, we are much more hesitant toward humanoid robots because of dystopian narratives deeply ingrained in our culture. We welcome robotic technology largely for functionality, such as robots that can navigate through rubble. The most effective scene in the film is when a quadriplegic man lifts himself out of his wheelchair with the help of a robotic device supporting his legs.

The film succeeds in posing a wide range of questions and outlining major cultural debates about robotics. Sobering moments of reflection by philosophers balances shots of roboticists excitedly demonstrating their Frankenstinian creations.

But, the documentary mis-represents the actual state of artificial intelligence. In brief interludes, Keleghan holds a conversation with a robot called RoboThespian. The computer-eyed robot is slow, but offers sophisticated answers to Keleghan’s complex questions. The film implies that the artificial intelligence of Her is actually quite close to realization.

Overall, Roboticize Me tries to tackle the ethical implications of robotics. But while it presents some crucial questions about integrating robots into society, the lack of information about artificial intelligence causes some major plot holes and causes the film to fall short.

The film provides many questions, but the only one I’m left with is: after having sex, would the robot fall asleep without cuddling and hog all the blankets?

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