Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: Millennial Mother and Son

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: Millennial Mother and Son

Article excerpt

When Steven Spielberg's AI was released in 2001, it was billed as the last of Stanley Kubrick's works. Spielberg had completed a project, which Kubrick had started years before his death. The time frame of this production is relevant to its outcome as critical viewers cannot help asking themselves what Spielberg was trying to achieve in 2001 with a fantasy science fiction film that hinges on computer generated (artificial) intelligence at a time when scientists in the US and the rest of the developed world were in a race against each other to see who succeeds first in cloning humans and societies were struggling with the ethical questions of this biotechnological reality. Films made in the 1990s such as Gattaca (1997) follow John Campbell Jr.'s postulate that science fiction be "an effort to predict the future on the basis of known facts, culled largely from present-day laboratories." (1) Artificial Intelligence seems to defy this demand. Was AI a commercial flop because it was out of step with scientific developments of its time or did it fail because it was turned into a Kubrick film for children, a family fairy tale Spielbergian fantasy? What did Spielberg accomplish with this work? Ambitiously the film combines all three largescale fascinations of the science-fiction genre as Telotte had drawn them up:

first, the impact of forces outside the human realm, of encounters with alien beings and other worlds (or other times); second, the possibility of changes in society and culture, wrought by our science and technology; and third, technological alterations in and substitute versions of the self. (12)

Science fiction in part owes its popularity to the fact that "the genre's underlying themes have proven to be so very adaptable to current issues, and thus ways in which the genre has managed to stay vital to our culture" (16). Here lies the major reason why artificial Intelligence could easily be dismissed by its audience. The replicated human has been the dominant image of the science fiction film of the 1680s and much of the 1990s. In those films,

the image of ourselves caught up in a world of technological reproduction, one whose very limitless capacity for mimesis promises to deliver all things to us, while also threatening to deliver all things to us, while also threatening to deliver us to a kind of thing-ness, to reduce us to near irrelevance --indistinguishable from our many copies or clones. (30)

AI delivers on this promise in a computer technological paradigm that seems quaint, at a time when other films such as Gattaca and Mimic (1997) deal with the social implications of cloned humans, of biomanipulation. Kubrick's outdated vision has little social relevance and Spielberg's fairy tale spin on it only removes it further into the Freudian world without direct socially and politically obvious relevance in the twenty-first century.

Both Jean-Luc Goddard's 1965 Alphaville and Spielberg's 2001 Art Artificial Intelligence (AI) end with the female protagonist saying "I love you." In that lies the male protagonist's triumph, in Alphaville over an inhuman totalitarian power and in Artificial intelligence that of the "mecha" (mechanical humanoid) over his computer-programmed nature and over "orgas" (organical human beings). In Alphaville, Lemmy Caution neutralizes the scientist who governs the city's society with a supercomputer which has erased all emotion-laden words from the dictionary. Incognito, Caution teaches the scientist's daughter the meaning of the word "love" and together they outwit the computer and flee the dying city. While this 1965 classic and the 2001 film share the focus on the future of human emotions and the question in whose hands ethical judgment will rest, the comparison ends there. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the actual power struggles are played out between scientists and government over who should h ave which amount of control over manipulating biology through gene technology. …

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