The Truth About Killer Robots Asks Us to Explore Our Future Irrelevancy
BY ASHLEY MORTON
The Truth About Killer Robots, a documentary exploring how our technology is quickly becoming more human — and humans more robotic — premiered at the 2018 DocNYC Festival, followed by a short Q&A with its filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin (pictured above with producer Joe Bender). Here are some takeaways from the event:
The film was developed with a little Trojan-horsing in mind.
Pozdorovkin’s film is broken into three sections, each highlighting a different death that took place in connection with a robot. The doc explores these literal deaths while linking to the “metaphorical death that is a consequence of automation growing.”
“We started with the incident [a robot killing a man] with Volkswagen and realized there wasn’t a full story there. But the employees wanted to talk about how much worse their job environment was as a result of automation,” he shared, going on to explain that the challenge became how to make a film about “structural labor economics” without it feeling like homework.
This isn’t the story of what robots do for us: It’s what they do to us.
From smartphones to bomb-retrieving robots, the film seeks to show the consequences of humans willingingly accepting robots into our lives. The obvious angle is that robots are adopting more human-like qualities, but the not-so-obvious call-out the film makes is that humans are asked to adopt more robot-like qualities in exchange.
...Which means looking at things a different way.
Pozdorovkin elaborated he and his team wanted to look at what was happening to labor not just through a quantitative lens, but also through an exploration of quality of life. “We wanted to think of A.I. not as something in the future, but think as a continuation of automation — a process that started in the ‘70s with the automotive industry,” he said.
“A lot of times you see reports about automation and you see how many jobs from that sector will disappear,” he continued, “but even before the job disappears the people are stripped of any dignity and skills that are involved in the job, and then made completely irrelevant.”
And yes, the film’s voice-over is done by a robot.
Rather than the standard celebrity narration Killer Robots uses an android that was developed to deliver the news combined to tell its story. Pozdorovkin noted that the initial effect was too life-like and they had to make the voice sound more robotic to get what they wanted across — that even art is not exempt from the ease (and monetary savings) of robot use.
The Truth About Killer Robots premieres November 26 at 10 PM on HBO.