Surrogates. Not a great movie* but satisfyingly thought provoking in a possible-robot-futures kind of way.

The first thing that makes this movie interesting is that the imagined robotic technology does not assume some incredible Artificial Intelligence, unlike most robot sci-fi. In that sense, therefore, its fictional future is more plausible than most robot movies. In the Surrogates future humans put on a headset that enables them to see through their robot's cameras, hear through its microphones, (presumably) smell through its olfactory sensors and control its motors. The technology exists now in the form of either a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), or a neuroprosthetic interface. Arguably the most successful such interface to date is the cochlear implant but non-invasive BCI is advancing rapidly; albeit limited, devices that allow thought control of video games exist (1). A synthesis of advanced BCI, wireless communications and high-fidelity android robots (2) would realise the Surrogates dream.

For me, however, the second and more interesting question raised by the movie is this. If you had the opportunity to live your life through a beautiful robot proxy, so that you see, hear and touch the world not directly but through its senses, and you interact with (most) other people even more indirectly, via their surrogates, would you..? Not just occasionally, for fun, but 24-7 - work and play. Would the experience be so compelling, so addictive, that it justifies spending your days lying prone on a couch jacked into an immersive real-reality, emerging only to pee and eat pizza (presumably delivered by surrogates)? Would social pressures or fashion compel you to surrogate-up lest, as a real human - lumpy and unattractive (not you dear reader) - you find yourself in a world of supermodel surrogates?

*Although I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot is thin and predictable: lone tech-sceptic cop putting himself on the line + luddites + inventor of surrogate-tech gone mad and bitter (played by James Cromwell, who curiously plays almost the same role in i,Robot). But Bruce Willis and Rosamund Pike, who plays his wife, are excellent. And the makeup of the human-actors-playing-surrogates is judged and executed perfectly, creating a more willing fictional contract than most other robot movies and provoking in me an almost mesmerising not-quite-out-of-the Uncanny Valley reaction.

 


Surrogates.
Release date: 25 September 2009
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: Michael Ferris & John Brancato (screenplay), Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele (graphic novel)
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Frances Ginty, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Rating: PG-13
Source: imdb.com

 

  1. For a summary of current consumer BCI see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_consumer_brain-computer_interface_devices
  2. To see the remarkable state-of-the-art in Japanese android robots click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actroid

 

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