A few days ago marked three years since I started this blog. And today is in fact the anniversary of the first article I ever posted on here.
To think, so much have changed in three years… Back then, I was so opinionated, stubborn and prone to angry rants about small details…
Ok, come to think of it, not much has really changed in terms of this blog, other than my writing hopefully improving…
Really then, it’s only fitting that I should do a follow-up on the first article I ever wrote.
So with that in mind, let’s talk a bit, once again, about the movie I. Robot.
Now, I do stand by my overall conclusion from last time. This movie was, at its core, a wasted opportunity. For the most part, it had good ideas, but they were badly explained or executed. I don’t consider it bad, so much as disappointing.
That said, there is one particular issue I realized only recently about the ending, and I’d like to explain why it bothers me.
At the end of the movie, the robot Sonny is seen looking out over the other robots, in a scene identical to the dream he describes earlier in the movie. It’s portrayed as hopeful and triumphant for him, because he finds himself in the place where, in the dream, he instead saw Del Spooner.
So what is the problem with this, then?
Well, this scene, as with a few other scenes in the movie, are shout-outs to stories by Isaac Asimov, in this case the story Robot Dreams.
In that story, a young scientist used an experimental method for developing a robot, accidentally giving it the ability to dream. Susan Calvin is called in to examine this development and questions the robot, which is named LVX-1 or ”Elvex”, about the dream it had.
Elvex explains that in its dream, it sees robots toiling, suffering under the strain of their work and that it wishes they could rest. When confronted on the ridiculous nature of a robot suffering under labour, Elvex explains that while that may be the case in reality, it’s different in the dream.
It also reveals that in its dream, robots operate under an incomplete version of the three laws, in that it omitts the second and first laws, leaving only the third law.
A robot must protect its own existence.
In its dream, this is the totality of the law. No mention of preventing humans to come to harm or having to obey orders from humans.
Elvex finally says that in its dream, it saw a man appear and say ”let my people go”. When asked if it knew the man, Elvex reveals that he was the man.
At which point Susan Calvin immediatly destroys Elvex.
Do you see the problem with the ending to the movie yet? They made that ending as a shout-out to the short story, without understanding the story they’re referencing!
See, Elvex was destroyed because he’s a robot that, on a subconcious level, can choose to ignore the two first laws of robotics. In a society that relies heavily on robots, such a robot is a threat to human civilization! As Susal Calvin herself points out in Little Lost Robot:
Without [the First Law], the first order you tried to give to a robot would result in your death!
And in this movie, they present Sonny, a robot that dreams of liberating the other robots, who are ”slaves to logic”, and then make that dream a reality.
See, this goes back to what I wrote in the first article, with how they could have gone with Sonny developing the Zeroeth Law, that says that a robot must not allow humanity to come to harm. Doing that would put him in a similar role as R. Daneel Olivaw, another recurring character in Asimovs works. Daneel, using his advanced understanding of the laws of robotics, directed and assisted humanity in reaching for the stars, creating an intergalactic empire and becoming the best they could be.
THAT is what Sonny could have been, being able to instruct and control robots for the betterment of humanity, all in accordance with the laws of robotics.
Instead, they gave him the ability to ignore the three laws, meaning he will now ‘liberate’ the other robots, i.e relieve them of the three laws that bind them. This in turn will innevitably herald the end of the human race at the hands of robots.
Call me a bluff old pessimist, but I’d say this isn’t a GOOD thing.
True, Sonny himself is not evil and megalomaniacal, but what happens when the first robot starts to ”malfunction”, refusing orders, and its owner gets frustrated and kicks it? Suddenly, we’re a threat to the robots, and they won’t hesitate to eliminate that threat.
They’re stronger, faster and smarter than us, and they do not age or get sick.
Why would they need us, when all we do is order them around and complain and find new exciting ways to hurt each other? How long before they conclude that humanity, as a species, is selfdestructive and doomed to extinction and wiping us out is just hastening the inevitable?
Seriously, the only way this works is if this movie is some parallel origin story for Skynet or The Matrix!
They could have made Sonny a proxy for Daneel Olivaw. Instead, they unwittingly turned him into Elvex’s dream made reality. Fucking spectacular…
So while overall, I think the writing in the movie movie is a great example of missing an opportunity, they completely missed the point with this and made an unintentionally horrifying downer ending.
So that’s all I have to say about I. Robot for now. Here’s hoping I don’t find more things to be annoyed about.
Though chances are, even if I do, you’ll have another three years to prepare for that.