Hot Docs Review: 'A.rtificial I.mmortality' Is a Less Sinister Take on the Usual AI Narrative Directed by Ann Shin

Hot Docs Review: 'A.rtificial I.mmortality' Is a Less Sinister Take on the Usual AI Narrative Directed by Ann Shin
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Autonomous artificial lifeforms are an inevitability. In some ways, sufficiently intelligent androids already exist in our timeline. But the questions that technology has yet to answer in any meaningful way remain: Can AI lifeforms adequately replicate a soul? When they arrive in their final form, will they be alive? Will they be conscious? Will human mortality one day become obsolete?

Toronto filmmaker Ann Shin attempts to address these questions and explores ideas related to the future of AI, while immersing herself in the possibility of endless human consciousness in her new film A.rtificial I.mmortality. Concerned about her ailing father who suffers from dementia, Shin maps out a digital avatar of her own body and mind with the help of a Ryerson University research team. Hoping to bank her memories and consciousness for her own children, Shin collects photographs, stories and other material records of her life to feed into her "mind file," a digital imprint of her individuality that has the potential to live in perpetuity. While building her digital self, she speaks to experts in the field of AI about advancements in the field.

Shin's documentary isn't unique. Artificial intelligence has been a hotly debated, speculated and analyzed topic for decades. But the filmmaker does offer a new angle to the imagined dystopia so often underrepresented through docs like hers. In addition to the obligatory technological specialists, researchers and innovators, Shin gives voice to underheard voices on the topic of AI. In particular, she speaks to two religious groups: one group that follow a sect of Christianity and have an unsurprisingly apocalyptic perspective on AI; and another group, the Transhumanists of the Terasem movement, who view the future of digital human consciousness as an option for immortality. These conversations, which seem obvious to the narrative of digital evolution, are so often overlooked when telling these stories.

Shin also explores the notion that we as humans are not as special as we purport to be; that we are not as highly developed beings as we feel we are, and perhaps we are not worth preserving for the future of sentient life. Difficult questions arise: Are we just a small step in the stream of earthly evolution?

A.rtificial I.mmortality serves as a snapshot of current-day AI. It doesn't shy away from the future of the technology, but it doesn't get lost in the vast possibilities of tomorrow either. In a way, Shin's film represents the growing genre of AI documentaries. It's a splintering field — so many of the films in the genre opt to focus on the future. Shin fixates on the less sinister facets of AI in the here and now. And we need that too.

Hot Docs runs online from April 29 to May 9, 2021. Get more information at the festival's website. (Crave)