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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
AI challenges what is real
AI: Raises questions about the nature of humanity
By BBC News Online Kevin Anderson

Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence is a visually stunning and thematically complex film that asks deep questions about love and reality as man seeks to make himself in God's image.

Stanley Kubrick originally started the project, and it has clear references to some of the master director's work including a Clockwork Orange and especially 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The movie takes place in a future where the greenhouse effect has melted the polar ice caps, submerging many coastal cities including New York, driven the population inland and caused violently chaotic weather.

To make do with dwindling resources, humans have created sentient robots, called mechas, and some societies have become prosperous by strictly limiting the number of children families can have.

Enter Allen Hobby, a scientist played by William Hurt who believes that there is a market for robots that are not only sentient but also can feel, can love.

Mr Hobby proposes creating a line of child mechas that will imprint on their parents and love them unconditionally forever.

Artificial children

After a philosophical and moral discussion with his colleagues, he asks, "Didn't God create Adam in his own image to love him?"

The project goes forward and the first lucky parents to receive such a child are Henry and Monica Swinton, played by Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor.

Their own child, Martin, lies in a cryogenic freezer struck by some disease and has been waiting for a cure for five years.

Frances O'Connor stars in Artificial Intelligence
Frances O'Connor plays mother
Henry brings home David played by Haley Joel Osment, the first test of Mr Hobby's hopes to create a sentient child robot.

Haley Joel should stick with slightly unnerving roles such as his break out role in The Sixth Sense. He is brilliantly convincing as an innocent simply seeking love from his mother.

At first Monica is repulsed, but the child robot grows on her. And she decides to activate David's imprinting function, after which David stops calling her Monica and begins calling her in a heart-rending way mommy.

Quest for the Blue Fairy

However, this scene of familial bliss is broken when a cure is discovered for Martin's illness.

Conflict ensues between Martin and David.

Jude Law
Law plays Gigolo Joe
As a slap to David, Martin asks his mother to read Pinocchio to them, saying snidely, "David will love it."

The conflict worsens, and Monica decides rather than ship David back to Mr Hobby where he will be destroyed she will abandon him.

Abandoned, David begins a quest. In a child-like blurring of fantasy and reality, David believes the Pinocchio story not to be a fairy tale but rather a road map for winning back his mother's love.

He sets off on a quest to find the Blue Fairy who will make him real so that his mother will love him...

God from a machine

In the end of the film, Mr Spielberg vaults into an even more distant future

But one cannot help but thinking of the past and the Greek dramatists who lowered gods onto the stage using a machine. From which, we have the term deus ex machina, literally translated god from a machine. The end will seem bolted on to some.

Although the ending ties up some of the emotional questions of the film, it really leaves open more many of the thorny questions about the nature of reality, humanity and technology.

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See also:

29 Jun 01 | Film
Spielberg's epic AI opens
18 Jun 01 | Film
Sci-fi fantasy AI unveiled
12 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
AI is alive on the internet
13 Jul 99 | Tom Brook
Kubrick's tantalising legacy
28 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Spielberg targets web talent
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