Published Jun 15, 2020The year 2020 has unleashed countless hardships across the world. In the first few months of this year alone, we've confronted the possibility of World War III, witnessed concentration camps on the U.S.'s southern border, seen Australian bush fires run rampant, faced the COVID-19 pandemic, weathered an invasion by murder hornets, and even heard rumblings about the existence of UFOs. What's next — an AI uprising? As documentarian Tonje Hessen Schei's iHuman argues, the age of artificial intelligence has already grown to a point that it may be too late to reign in its most insidious potential. And it's coming soon.
We know that AI has the potential to create good — it will be the last invention we ever make, says one documentary interviewee — but whose hands does its power fall into?
iHuman paints a complex portrait of the world as we know it to be now, on the brink of technological revolution. But none of the great powers on Earth want to cooperate in its inception and regulation. Instead, as you may have guessed, it's a veritable arms race to find ways to weaponize AI (and its fully autonomous sister, AGI) against each other — and against citizens.
In Xinjiang, China, AI surveillance and predictive policing have already targeted ethnic groups for mass political re-education. Racial bias-laden AI-powered predictive policing is in its early stages in North America too. Facial recognition software can, with a high degree of accuracy, determine your sexuality, political and religious beliefs, your spending habits and even the likelihood that you might commit a crime. Privacy, as we know it, is becoming extinct, and that extinction is highly valuable. Data, as the film suggests, is "the new oil."
As one of the film's subjects puts it, the next greatest technological advancement — the greatest data-siphoning machine ever known — will be used for three main purposes on a large scale: "Killing, spying and brainwashing."
Is it all doom and gloom? Director Schei certainly positions it as such in iHuman. It's all a bit too dark, frankly. Even in speaking with the world's highest authorities on AI, we are offered no signs of hope, no solutions, no plan of action — no way out but to submit completely to inevitable oppression and violence. And these experts seem perfectly happy becoming culpable in our demise. Schei is thorough in her methods, certainly, but it feels dishonest to position the AI revolution as an impending apocalypse without offering any recourse.
If Schei's aim is to scare us, she has certainly succeeded. iHuman could not be more horrific. From the film's wide-lens documentation on the atrocities being committed globally with the use of AI, to its profoundly dark score, to Theordor Groeneboom's uneasy visual effects, one thing is certain: AI will become the world's next malevolent god.
Hot Docs Film Festival has moved online for its 2020 edition. Buy tickets over at the festival's website. (UpNorth Film)