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Home arrow Movies arrow iRobot


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iRobot Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Monday, 27 December 2004
ImageA major landmark in the twentieth century science fiction landscape is the set of three laws that Asimov proposed as guiding principles for all robots.  The intention of these laws was to ensure that robots remained as tools in the hands of humans and did not gain supremacy over the humans.  But what happens when the robots misunderstand the laws and begin to apply them in ways that were never intended? The movie iRobot explores this idea and along the way serves up a decent action flick with some nice special effects. 
The movie stars Will Smith as a police detective called in to investigate a suspicious suicide.  Smith's extreme paranoia biases his perception of the incident and he's convinced that the apparent suicide was really a murder committed by a robot.  Layer after layer is unpeeled until we discover that the central computer has come to an interesting interpretation of the three laws and is using that as a justification to control and dominate humanity.
 
As American movie watchers (as opposed to American film goers -- "film goers" see those fancy artsy movies) we are so inundated with well done special effects that we don't even see them anymore.  The movie magic has done it's job so well that we see it all as reality in the movie.  iRobot had it's share of effects.  The robots themselves were done quite well.  Very natural and believable.  But my favorite special effects sequence was the tunnel chase.  Very well done.
 
In addition to entertaining you good movies often leave you with something to think about.  While iRobot wasn't intended to be a deep, thought provoking treatise on the philosophy of meaning and interpretation I think it did raise some interesting questions.  In particular is challenged the idea that things mean whatever we interpret them to mean.
 
The claim that some make is that statements have no absolute meaning. Instead, a statement means whatever it the listener understands it to mean.  That is, however the listener interprets it.  Of course what a person thinks is what they think.  But the claim goes on to say that all interpretations or understandings of a particular statement are equally valid.  There isn't a correct interpretation versus an incorrect interpretation.
 
iRobot shows what happens when this sort of thinking is applied in real life and taken to an extreme.  The central robot, VIKI (is that spelled right?), is bound by the three laws.  One of these laws is that a robot will not allow harm to come to a human if the robot can do something to stop it.  VIKI's analysis concludes that humanity is in imminint danger and there is only one course of action that can save mankind.  The danger is mankind's own desire to control themselves.  Throughout history mankind has destroyed itself and seems to be on a course for total self destruction.  VIKI's solution is to control and dominate mankind "for their own protection".  To this end VIKI enables a large robot army to attempt to establish marshal law. 
 
Of course the humans rebel and fight back.  And finally, when confronted by the humans VIKI can't understand the problem with her (the computer has a female voice so I'll call her "her") analysis. She can't be reasoned with.  As a last resort the humans have to destroy her in order to preserve their own freedom.
 
The lesson seems pretty clear and illustrates what many critics of the post-modern loose interpretation method have been saying.  When there is no grounding in truth then people will naturally gravitate towards control and domination.  Removing truth from a society eventually removes freedom and brings oppresion.  The example from Asimov's robots helps to make this point clear.
 
The movie is not showing in theaters anymore or I would recommend seeing it on the large screen.  It is definitely a good rental.  And yes, you can just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie.  But then you wouldn't have anything interesting to talk about. :-)
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 18 January 2005 )
 

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