The Truth about Killer Robots (2018)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Truth about Killer Robots</strong> (2018)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) So here we are … comfortably in the twenty-first century, and living in a world where robots have killed people. (I’m old enough to remember a serious early-1980s article in French-Canadian magazine Québec-Science taking a look at the convergence of humanity and robots, and using the eventual death of a human at the hands of a robot as a significant marker. The article gave me nightmares at the time, but as I said: here we are.) The Truth about Killer Robots uses three deaths (the 2015 death of a worker at a Volkswagen factory; the 2016 takedown of a sniper by a Dallas Police robot; and the first of the Tesla “autopilot” deaths in 2016) as an excuse to study where the science of robotics was in 2018 and what it means. The film is structured around three themes introduced by each death (manufacturing, service and total displacement), and has the conceit of being narrated by a robot from the future. Alas, the film doesn’t do much with the narrative hook, and that disappointment (along with the descriptive title) is indicative of the rest of the film’s blunt and unsurprising approach. Writer/director Maxim Pozdorovkin has delivered an up-to-date global look at where we are (the look at the post office robotization is fascinating, and the film spends a lot of time in Asia) but doesn’t go anywhere beyond the obvious nor doesn’t come close to addressing the use of drones in combat—a curious omission. Pozdorovkin is obviously skeptical about the idea of automation, to the point where the film seems to be missing a more challenging viewpoint—either in the direction of techno-utopianism (What if robots helped us rediscover our imperfect humanity?) or deeper into the underlying horrors of its implications (What if there was no choice, no way around the roboticization? Are we creating those incentives unconsciously?) As a particular point of irritation, the film does play around with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, but without quite dispensing with the fiction that they were anything but literary devices. Ham-fisted and a bit hollow once past the facts and footage it assembles, The Truth about Killer Robots leaves us wanting more, and as more human deaths at the hands of robots accumulate, it will become even less relevant.

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