Wednesday 7 June 2023


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic. Tech titans and academics (including the creator of ChatGPT) have issued stark warnings about the adoption and development of AI mirroring apocalyptic sci-fi storytelling seen in The Terminator franchise and more.

Ironically, Hollywood itself is facing a new challenge in the form of AI-generated content.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, examines the movie M3gan - she ain't no Teddy Ruxpin - and looks ahead at the possible implications of AI on the creative industry.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Nothing warms my heart like a well-crafted cautionary tale featuring creepy killer dolls. While the Chucky saga laughed in the face of consumerism and Annabelle illustrated the importance of reading warning labels, M3gan tackles deep themes for a glossy horror flick.

Like all the best scary movies, it’s an avenue for social commentary. And there’s plenty to comment on. Parental responsibility; finding a work/life balance in our busy modern world; kids’ addiction to technology; the value of socialization versus gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

8-year-old Cady (played by Violet McGraw) lives in a world of loneliness, marketing, and staged corporate events. Adults are sympathetic after her parents die in a car crash, but they’re just as interested in technology as a healing tool. The first half of the film is more melodrama than horror; the second half gets downright sinister with the ‘uncanny valley’ near-real visage and sociopathic tactics of M3gan (Amie Donald), Cady’s robotic companion with some unique dance moves.

M3gan wants to protect Cady and be her number-one pal. She’s willing to kill to preserve her function.

Her remorseless loyalty and murderous efficiency taps into our fear of haywire machines, as seen in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Demon Seed (1977), Deadly Friend and Chopping Mall (both 1986). More recently, a high-tech Chucky’s AI chip went on the fritz in a Child’s Play reboot (2019) and Terminator: Dark Fate introduced an artificially intelligent, liquid metal simulacrum in a female form called Rev-9 (also 2019).

Concerns about AI do not involve it going wrong so much as getting too powerful. Last month, more than 350 AI researchers, ethicians, engineers, and business leaders signed a statement on AI risk, which begins, ‘Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority.’ For now, though, the most dangerous aspects of AI are hard to pinpoint. There’s a risk of an artist’s online work being appropriated, data being stolen, and resources being consumed.

In the film industry, I’m seeing recent graduates relying on Midjourney to create teaser posters and ChatGPT to write taglines, press releases and website content. It’s faster, they argue, and cheaper than hiring a marketing team. The AI-generated advertising copy and scripts I’ve read are technically competent but lack soul.

Fear of technological progress has always made popular movie fodder. Metropolis, with its soul-crushing technology and naughty maschinenmensch, was released almost 100 years ago. The bottom line is, we don’t know what will happen in our quest for a cushier, labour-light life. Our fascination with the unknown keeps us flocking to sci-fi movies like M3gan.

It’s not all gloom - AI can speed up workflows, solve complex problems and improve communication in different languages. In my short film Ask Astrid, the central human character develops a friendship with an AI device, and they try to prevent a crime together. Star Trek’s Data gives an optimistic glimpse of AI striving to become more human, rather than bending humans to its will.

M3gan will be back in January 2025, offering her idiosyncratic brand of friendship. M3gan 2.0 will be written by original screenwriter Akela Cooper, with McGraw returning as Cady and Allison Williams as her guardian Gemma.

With synthetic intelligence developing at a breathtaking pace, there’s plenty of scope for the sequel to scare us with more tech gone wild and out-of-control creepy dancing.

Have you seen M3gan? What are your thoughts on AI-generated content? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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