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