12.28.2004

I, Robot Revisited (on DVD, which lacks interesting special features)

I watched I, Robot again with the nephews. It seems I forgot to mention a criticism in my first review. Don't get me wrong. It was still enjoyable, but the reasoning of robots was not consistent. In the first viewing I only noticed the contrast between Detective Spooner's first meetings and later meetings with Sonny which show him to be peaceful.

The three laws (Wikipedia goes into great detail) which the movie emphasized are as follows:

1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

So why, in the first linked clip, does Sonny grab a gun? After all, he's rather acrobatic though he gets hit anyway.

In the second clip, if Sonny cannot pick up on "subtle" human signals such as winking, then why should Sonny to escalate to anger after an accusation of murder since, in the later exchanges, Spooner isn't directly accusing?

Maybe these questions could be explained away. Maybe Sonny was egging Spooner along the trail even if it threw Sonny furhter off the scent (one wonders if a more direct line of reasoning could have proved more fruitful than hedging on a few loosely related odd bits). It may also be, in the second case, that Sonny knew language subtleties better than common human gestures.

Although the movie did not directly mention this, the movie does well to render a critique of Asimov's Zeroth Law:
A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Asimov himself noted the Zeroth Law may stymy human progress and creativity but the movie suggests it paves a more sinister path toward a robot-controlled environment, which may or may not benefit humanity. The problem with the movie's portrayal, however, is the same that humans have always had to contend with: war to preserve peace. The scenario feels realistic enough although I suspect that the robots used more aggressive force than was initially necessary.

Despite these complaints, the strengths outweighed the weaknesses. Will Smith played jaded dubiousness well, and the logical inconsistencies are probably outcomes of increasing dramatic tension at whatever cost, so that we have a plot that sweeps us away: an admirable quality even if we might wish for an equally active plot that did not violate its own rules.

discuss this post at our messageboard