Robot Stories: The Film That Will Melt Your Synthetic Heart

Do you prefer robot love…. on film, that is? For the film geek and lover of all things robot, I highly recommend the prescient and heartbreaking 2003 science fiction film, Robot Stories (written and directed by Greg Pak). Robot Stories strings together a series of vignettes about people interacting with robots. In one story, a young couple adopts a baby robot that coos and beeps and appears to feel sadness and anger. In another story, a woman attempts to connect emotionally with her son after an accident by restoring all of his childhood robot toys, each one triggering a twinge of memory or a feeling of happier times.

In the third vignette, male and female robot workers are hired to do the coding in an office and they fall for one another, consummating their love in the middle of a sterile hallway by strumming each other’s back buttons. The humanoids-with-heart in Robot Stories call to mind the (somewhat colder) David robot in the recent film, Prometheus. Remember the David 8? He coolly – awesomely – bleaches his hair to match Peter O’Toole’s flaxen locks in Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, even robots have champagne wishes and celluloid dreams.

The final segment in Robot Stories is very Cylon-chic (It reminds me of Battlestar Galactica and the idea that recycling bodies can download prior consciousness from the mother ship). It’s introduced with a quote about how scientists have finally constructed the “first digital copy of the human brain. The procedure, known as scanning, lets people download their memories and thoughts into artificial neural networks, “making it possible for a digitized human to ‘live’ forever.” This final, short vignette focuses on the moral implications of this new discovery. A sick and aging man struggles with an imminent death that he could choose to forgo in favor of a constructed and digitized immortality in a world of pixelated memory.

Robot Stories was released nine years ago, but it still feels so relevant in a Facebook cyber-galaxy that allows us to reach for digital immortality and slowly select and scan memories to be planted on a Timeline. We’re also beginning to create robots that feel and express empathy (like David Hanson’s Einstein robots that react to facial expressions)… and we’re putting ourselves inside the interface in more ways than one. What’s next? Well, you can now find muppet-cylon mashups on YouTube, so I’d say we’ve come pretty far.  It’s a marvel of modern science!

Robot Stories – The Perfect Weekend Film For Robot Geeks