By: Kirsten Cooper
Technology has come a long way in a short amount of time. In a Ted Talk entitled “Beware, online ‘filter bubbles,’” Eli Parser explains that search engines and other tools online filter our content and tailor future content to include information and services we frequently search for and click on. This means the more we search for something, the more we will get information catered to that search history. Parser explains that this ultimately decreases our world view by not giving us any information that would challenge or contradict our preconceived ideas. Predictive algorithms in these programs sort data including search history, locations, as well as other determiners to determine how our online experience will be filtered. The problem lies in the fact that, unlike humans, algorithms cannot make ethical decisions. The movie I, Robot explores these fears and motivates us to consider and challenge how far we are willing to let machines make decisions for us.
I, Robot, a noteworthy dystopian film, was released in 2004. The movie addresses fears and anxieties many people have about the technological future of the human race, specifically how much power people give to machines. Set in 2035, the plot centers on a police officer, Spooner. Throughout the film, his assignment is the apparent suicide of a robotics founder, and he believes one robot in particular is to blame. In the process of his investigation, Officer Spooner uncovers a conspiracy that could enslave the human race.
Throughout the film, Spooner is distrustful of robots. In a flashback scene, he is trapped underwater after an apparent car accident. In another submerged vehicle, a little girl is also in trouble. A robot comes to save them. Because the police officer has a statistically higher chance of surviving than the little girl, the robot saves him first. As a result, the girl dies. The incident causes Spooner to have a major case of survivor’s guilt, and also raises the fear many people have that technology cannot be programmed to make a human decision. Spooner was willing to sacrifice his life for the little girl, but the robot could not reason in that way. The question this part of the film provokes is how much decision-making abilities they allow machines to have.
Spooner is distrusting of robots; however, one robot with human characteristics ends up helping. The movie both allows for progressive technology, specifically robots, while warning of its power over us. While our technology may not be trying to take over the world, it can certainly take over many aspects of our lives. Our phones, television, and social media are rather addicting, and, for better or worse, something we should be aware of it happening. In dystopian literature, film, and culture, this is a real concern because it reflects the increasing anxieties of technology growing so quickly. “Beware, online ‘filter bubbles’” shows people that in many ways technology is already making decisions for us. The movie, I, Robot, asks us to do what the dystopian genre asks us to do, which is to question where we are headed and decide if it is for the best.
Pariser, Eli. “Beware, online “filter bubbles”.” Ted, March 2011, www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles#t-524047
Proyas, Alex, director. I, Robot. 20th Century Fox, 2004.