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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.12.10] movie review news documentary

Year: 2010
Director: Jens Schanze
Writers: Jens Schanze, Judith Malek-Mahdavi
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6 out of 10

Once a thing of dreams and scifi novels, artificial intelligence (AI) is commonplace today in everything from likeness engines to video games. What once started as a concept that if you can get a machine to do it, life would be much easier, has now turned into a nightmare scenario for some who believe that if a machine can do it, humans will be rendered useless. The world of James Cameron’s The Terminator is closer to reality than some of us care to imagine.

Jens Schanze’s documentary Plug & Pray attempts to shed a light on the ethics of AI. With the last interviews of Joseph Weizenbaum, a German/American professor of computer science and one of AI’s most vocal opponents, as the voice of the opposition, Schanze delves into the world of AI but it’s never quite clear what he’s attempting to achieve with his documentary. The title suggests that he’ll build a case against AI on the basis of spirituality but the film never quite makes this point. What we have instead are a series of interviews with some of the leading voices in AI (the interviews with Raymond Kurzweil are nice highlights) but it all feels disconnected.

Individually, the interviews in Schanze’s documentary are fascinating and it’s particularly interesting to hear Weizenbaum, a man who was at the forefront of AI development, discuss his ideas on why AI isn’t the answer and why we should be weary of its development. It’s also interesting to hear the charismatic Kurzweil, a man who has won every technological award out there and is considered a leading futurist, discuss his feelings and views on AI. These two major interviews are beautifully tied in with others, including Minoru Asada and Hiroshi Ishiguro but the idea of spirituality doesn’t really come up in the discussion until Neil Gershenfeld’s short interview in which he discusses nano technology and cell sized computers. It’s here that, indirectly, the idea of spirituality and humanity playing “god” comes into question and then the discussion ends before it even begins. And that’s the problem with Schanze’s film: it stops short of making any concrete statements and chooses instead to swim in and out of the ideas presented with little direction.

Those at all familiar with AI and the arguments posed by the title of the documentary (and occasionally by Weizenbaum), will likely be bored by Plug & Pray which fails to provide any new or additional ideas to the raging discussion. The documentary does feature a few interesting bits of history and current technology and manages to introduce a few new faces into the discussion but this is very much an introductory film, one which opens the door to the world of AI and the serious discussion which we should be having about its future. Sadly, it fails to provide any jaw dropping information and its unlikely that any who stumbles on this will follow the rabbit hole into more in-depth discussions on the subject.

A missed opportunity, Jens Schanze’s Plug & Pray isn’t a waste of time but it’s also not the powerful document it could have been had the director started with a firm idea and worked to get answers either for or against it. As it stands, Plug & Pray is a meandering film with lots of great ideas none of which are fully developed.

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