If you are not already concerned about the exponential development of technology, you certainly will be after watching Tonje Hessen Schei’s terrifying documentary, iHuman. Featuring a host of knowledgeable talking heads, the film issues an urgent call to action - we need to talk about technology.
While acknowledging the incredible advantages offered by this industry, iHuman issues warning after warning. The film could not be clearer about what it believes is at stake if we fail to address the wider implications of data use, privacy, surveillance and the development of AI.
Indeed, iHuman begins with some particularly chilling words from the late Stephen Hawking: “Success in creating AI would be the greatest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
Hawking’s concern is echoed throughout the documentary. Max Tegmark from the Future Of Life Institute states, for example, that “AI will ultimately be either the best thing ever to happen to humanity, or the worst thing ever to happen.”
In case you are not fully up to speed with the potential of technology in general and AI in particular, Hessen Schei is here to keep you up at night. iHuman explains how computers are being developed to do any job that a human can do - only faster and better. AI, we are told, could become a new life form, one that may make the human race, well, obsolete.
This, according to Tegmark, is why a discussion about AI and the future potential of the technology industry “is the most important conversation of our time”.
Watching iHuman, I couldn’t help but recall films such as The Terminator (and I am sure I am not alone here). The sci-fi aspects of this debate are not lost on Hessen Schei. She embraces the genre’s tropes in iHuman with a tension-fuelled score and stunning (and unsettling) CG animation. Meanwhile, the film balances its talking heads with some beautifully cinematic sequences.
The consequences of unchecked technological developments are not just a matter for the future, of course. We are already feeling their effects today. iHuman explores the disturbing human rights infringements that are occurring around the world as a result of data gathering and precision surveillance.
The documentary also examines the inbuilt addictive nature of technology and the extremely troubling influence wielded by the handful of powerful companies that created this tech. What are the implications, we are asked, of combining their knowledge and expertise with policing and military organisations?
Meanwhile, iHuman analyzes how “fake news” has been used as a weapon to create division and instability - how we are being manipulated in an echo chamber of technology. “When somebody controls what you read, they also control what you think,” warns mathematician, Silvija Seres.
There is a lot to take in and Hessen Schei’s film can feel overwhelmingly bleak at times. However, iHuman does offer us a glimmer of hope - it is not too late. Could the answer lie in regulation and international governance? Whether the case, it is clear that we really do need to talk about technology.