So you’ve fallen in love with an android…

Humans - messy, sometimes unreliable, duplicitous, or untrustworthy. But machines... well, they can be just as bad. At least the ones in movies.

There is a long cinematic tradition of machines created in our own image proving impossible to resist (either in love, or in the robot uprising). Either they want to love us or kill us (and sometimes both!)

As AI continues to demonstrate its weaknesses*; consistently not understanding how many fingers most human hands have, misidentifying shoppers, messing with search results, failing to recommend books as well as librarians do. It's interesting to consider how far away this is from how AI and sentient human-like robots, have been portrayed in film.

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The great grandaddy of all "Oh no, we've invented an evil robot" movies. This 1927 silent film sits within the "German expressionism" art movement which sounds intimidating but really just means things will be portrayed in a tonally very "extra" sort of fashion. Everything's a bit OTT and distorted. Nobody is aiming for realism.

In a futuristic city a working class gal named Maria has her physical likeness transferred onto a very art deco steampunk looking robot, and the young, very privileged man who has fallen for her doesn't realise the deception, even after said robot leads a violent worker uprising (typical). It's less about the "love" story than it is about class struggle and capitalism but you get the idea.

Blade runner and Blade runner 2049

What can you say about Blade runner that hasn't already been said? The art direction alone makes it worth a watch. Blade runner basically invented the modern cinematic idea of what a futuristic city would look like. And it wears its noir 1940s sensibilities on the sleeve of its grubby looking trenchcoat - think Sean Young's shoulder pads, Harrison Ford's stubble. Sparks fly when Ford's Deckard needs to track down some wayward synthetics and he discovers they aren't the only androids at large. It's a classic for a reason and well worth a watch.

The sequel is as much of a visual feast as its predecessor (and you'd expect nothing less from Dune director, Denis Villeneuve). K, a replicant blade runner uncovers a secret while "retiring" a rogue replicant and it sets him on a path that leads to Deckard. A path that endangers both him and his AI girlfriend, Joi. It's a less compelling film than the original but still extremely watchable.

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Ex Machina

Beware reclusive CEOs of tech companies and the "toys" they play with.

A coder named Caleb gets to stay a week at the home of said CEO (an intense Oscar Isaac) but is really part of an experiment to see how good the CEO's latest creation is, an AI in a humanoid robot body, named Ava. The more time Caleb spends with Ava, who is confined to an apartment, the more he sympathises with her and he starts to have feelings for her, which Ava seems to reciprocate. But can he really trust her, or her creator, Nathan? It's a slick, good-looking film with the shadow of menace lurking at corners.

I'm your man

Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey, Legion, and Beauty and the Beast can seemingly not be pinned down to any particular genre or character and in I'm your man he's on a completely different part of the cinematic map again with his turn as a perfectly calibrated "lovebot" in this strangely compelling German (with English subtitles) rom-com. In it 40-something archaeologist, Alma, has been roped into assessing a robot life-partner and she's none too happy about it, but finds herself softening towards Tom, a handsome, ever-learning, eager to please boyfriend. He's scientifically designed to be her perfect match, right down to his English accent, but is perfect good enough?

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Ewan McGregor is a tech wiz at the leading edge of AI and Zoe is his colleague... or is she? When Zoe starts to find herself falling for him it becomes clear she's been lied to. Nobody seems at all bothered by the deeply unethical situation this creates, for some reason. There's a lot of "deep" conversations about emotions, and people touching each other's faces a lot, which is superficially "romantic" but it was all a bit too "pygmalion" for me to get on board with. Zoe's haircut is almost exactly the same as the sexbot from Cherry 2000 though, so that was a nice touch. 

Westworld (seasons 1-4)

Westworld was famously cancelled at the end of season 4 despite creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy having a clear end to the story in mind for a final 5th season but earlier this year suggested that the ending might still come to screens at some point, with Nolan saying,

“We’re completionists,” he added. “It took me eight years and a change of director to get Interstellar made. We’d like to finish the story we started.”

While in my opinion the show never managed to reach the heights it achieved in its first season, with its dense and twisting plot and outstanding peformances, I freely admit to also being a completist and hoping that 5th season does indeed turn up somehow.

Whether you watch the whole shebang or not the first season is well worth a look as we follow Billy, a somewhat reluctant visitor to the western themed android amusement park who goes on a journey of discovery and finds himself falling for Dolores, an android who has a journey of her own to go on... towards sentience.

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*There's also an argument to be made that there is no ethical way to use AI tools, based as they are on the intellectual property of creators whose consent is almost never sought for training these models.

More artificial intelligence

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