G & I & I, Robot & the Critics

The 2004 Alex Proyas movie I, Robot starring Will Smith has been playing on HBO recently and I liked the movie so I would tune into various parts of it when flipping channels.  At one point near the end my oldest, G, happened to walk by.  It was the very end where they were having the final battle on top of the supercomputer complex against all the Viki controlled NS-5s.  She was interested in it and started asking questions about it.  I deflected the questions at the time because it was the end of the movie and I wasn’t about to explain it’s entirety to her right at the end but I set it to record at another time and promised we’d watch it again together.  G has a real hard time following a plot, especially with a movie aimed at adults. When we watched he Star Wars Trilogy together for the first time recently I had to pause it multiple times and explain how everyone and everything tied together.  Knowing that I would have to explain this one as well it also occurred to me that I had never actually read Asimov’s I, Robot.  I was already contemplating an Asimov related personal project and remembered the critics said it bore little resemblance to Asimov’s book so I decided to read it and see for myself.  A quick trip to the library and I was set.

First, I sat down with G and the iPad and showed her several videos of present day robots.  I showed her YouTube videos of Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog and Cheetah robots and a few other examples from the related list provided by YouTube to give her a general idea of the current state of robotics.  She was already familiar with factory robotics from the GT5 intro.  I stayed away from Star Trek’s Commander Data because he’s technically an android, a far more complex character, and I think the human association would have confused things.  Then I explained to her that someday in the future, perhaps even her future, robots may be bigger, stronger, faster, etcetera than humans and could feasibly take over.  Having grasped that, I then explained the three laws of robotics and how they were designed to prevent that from occurring.  Then we sat down to watch the movie.

She enjoyed the movie and I only had to pause it a handful of times to answer questions and help her along with the plot.  She got the concept that the main robot character, Sonny, was ambiguously good or bad for most of the movie but she had a hard time grasping that the human CEO was the implied bad guy right up to the very end, especially when Viki turned out to be the perpetrator.  The logic of the robots taking over because of the three laws to protect the humans from harm, even from each other, was over her head.  Which brings me to the critical reception of the movie.

The movie promos specifically said the movie was inspired by, not based on, Asimov’s I, Robot.  After reading the novel, which is really laid out as a series of short stories exploring ways the three laws can create unexpected logical outcomes, I think the promos are accurate and the movie is faithful to the underlying concept of what Asimov intended with I, Robot.  The movie is obviously a summer action flick chock full of special effects marqueed with a well known action star but it is a good movie on that merit alone.  It also has one of the most inventive “car chase” scenes of any movie I’ve ever scene.  It’s entertaining and exciting.

But within the shell of the action flick, appropriate to reach a wide summer audience, the core logical exploration of the three laws is very well done.  It takes a complex logical construct and makes it relatable to the masses that would ordinarily be lost or bored with Asimov’s writings.  Viki using the robots to protect us from ourselves at the expense of our civil liberties easily resonates with a post 9-11 mainstream audience.  It’s a fun flick with good special effects that sends a cautionary message wrapped in cold, hard machine logic.  I think the critics, artistic minded that they are, just didn’t get the logic.