David Cuevas takes a look at A.rtificial I.mmortality as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
Exactly a decade ago, I attended a cultural event at the Museum of Canadian History in Ottawa, Canada. I was a young, easily susceptible child at that point; where any little interesting detail would have be more than just impressionable. This event, sponsored by various big name tech companies from Japan, introduced the world of artificial intelligence to my young eyes. I was fascinated by one of the small robots which one of the companies brought to Canada; where it even kicked a soccer ball onstage for an audience of rowdy families. But all of that performative fluff had to be it, right? There was no way anybody would even bother to continue innovating and potentially risk the current trend of human development for a more enhanced immortalised experience, right?
Cut forward to 2021, and the opening night of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival has finally been bestowed upon Canadian viewers. Adequately screened in a virtual format, the latest documentary venture from Ann Shin entitled A.rtificial I.mmortality is a frightening feature-length endeavour. One could argue that the personal stakes of humanity’s current strides being made to replicate the human soul is one that is growing closer to reality — with Shin’s film being an authentic document on the current explorations of societal integration with these forms of artificial intelligence. Narrated from her own personal experiences and investigative research on the central subject matter at hand, Shin’s latest is an insightful although slightly stilted technological affair.
Using the framing device of her own father with Dementia, Shin uses personal stakes and investing family drama to further add purpose to her investigative journey. Commenting on ethics, evolution, and even occasional religious worship — Shin’s film is packed with a staggering amount of detail. At one point — nearing its third act — A.rtificial I.mmortality slowly morphs into a horrific examination on the drawbacks of technological-based immortality and social security. Occasionally, Shin does find herself with a few too many interviewees, where the packed subject matter ultimately feels too overwhelming for the warranted material. If a few minutes of interview footage was cut down to a more bite-sized and techno newbie-friendly approach; I would argue that A.rtificial I.mmortality would have made an even larger impact as a medium-length production.
However, this isn’t to discredit Shin’s astonishing research and commitment to her project. The integration of her insightful interviews and beautifully computer-rendered B-roll adds a level of professionalism and insight to her central thesis. For what it’s worth and what it specifically accomplishes, A.rtificial I.mmortality is a thorough examination on the pros and cons of artificial intelligence. Should we play god with the human soul? Where do we draw the line in the creation of a new form of life? These questions will probably never be clearly answered, but at least Shin provides some sort of contemplation for those curious about our potential humanitarian fate.
A.rtificial I.mmortality premiered in the Canadian Spectrum program as part of this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution.