Review: iHuman

Year: 2020

Runtime: 99 minutes

Director: Tonje Hessen Schei

By Calum Cooper

Humanity has long been interested in the concept of Artificial Intelligence. From dedicated scientists to vast imaginations galvanising into the likes of “Ex Machina” (2015) or “WarGames” (1983) among others, the possibilities of A.I seem limitless. This is what makes the concept so appealing to many, yet also so terrifying to many others.

Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei is aware of the weighty questions attached to A.I, and thus her latest documentary ,“iHUMAN” (2020), explores not only the potential consequences of an A.I in modern times, but ponders just how close we are to the theoretical scenario of A.I becoming smarter than humans. She does this by interviewing an array of scientists and programmers within this field, all of whom hold a spectrum of opinions on the matter, be it treating the emergence of A.I as the next phase in evolution, or another step closer to us all being converted into the Cybermen. Given how 2020 has gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were worshipping our new computer overlords by Hogmanay.

“iHUMAN” certainly fuels anxiety and discussion on the matter, as its various interviewees give fascinating insights into how A.I would develop should it grow beyond human capacity. Intelligence after all is the ability to learn and adjust to new situations. So many of our technologies, from uncanny singing robots to even our own mobile phones, are already equipped with A.I, in the latter’s case so it can adjust and recommend based on our preferences.

Social media especially utilises it. Have you ever been discussing a certain product and then, moments later, an advert for the very thing you were discussing appears on Facebook? That is likely the result of A.I according to the interviewees of “iHUMAN”. This ability to predict and feed into discourse and personal preference has contributed to the creation of internet echo chambers and the huge polarisation in people that we see today – a colossal divide that seemed inconceivable even only 10 years ago.

This is all bizarre enough, but the film examines how close A.I is to creating the dystopian sci-fi many fear. Just because we aren’t yet surrounded by androids doesn’t mean that technology hasn’t reached a level of awareness. A.I is already so ingrained into everyday technology that just the right push in the wrong direction could be enough. The film utilises some impressive graphics to illustrate binary subconscious growing as it presents its findings on this matter. All the while, the film’s various interviewees talk about what mentality an advanced A.I would develop specifically in regards to humanity.

“If Schei’s aim was to inform and generate discussion, then she has certainly accomplished that. “iHUMAN” is nothing if not thought-provoking, and will certainly quench the curiosities of those intrigued by its synopsis.”

Perhaps the scariest observation comes from Ilya Sutskever, the man in charge of Elon Musk’s A.I research company. He states that A.I will eventually prioritise its own survival, viewing humanity more like animals than a threat. For example, we treat animals very playfully and even keep them as pets. That is, until it becomes time to build a new estate or a highway, and suddenly the animals inhabiting the land we wish to use become a nuisance rather than a companion. As Sutskever says, “we don’t ask the animals’ permission. We just do it”. It’s a terrifying thought that left me more anxious than the idea of A.I simply going HAL 9000 on us.

I personally found “iHUMAN” at its most engaging when it was discussing the socio-political implications of technology, as well as how A.I could capitalise on the increased polarisation of today should it ever launch a takeover. After all, one could argue that the circulation of fake news, and people refusing to engage with any differing opinion outside their pocket of the internet, is what ultimately led to the likes of Brexit, Donald Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro. Who’s to say it can’t lead to an A.I based global dictatorship?

Otherwise, the film presents a lot of interesting, even scary, information, but doesn’t always do the soundest job of connecting them together into a bigger picture. It feels like it picked the most compelling pieces of information gathered, and hastily organised them, rather than built a narrative or argument out of them. It does make for a few pacing issues and questions on what Schei is hoping to accomplish at times.

But if Schei’s aim was to inform and generate discussion, then she has certainly accomplished that. “iHUMAN” is nothing if not thought-provoking, and will certainly quench the curiosities of those intrigued by its synopsis. Although doom-sayers may wish to find something more light-hearted. The world is already depressing enough, even without the never-ending hardships that have defined 2020.


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