I'm Your Man
by writer/director Maria Schrader
The dream of an artificial human is probably as old as humanity itself. In antiquity it was a mythical/artistic act of creation that required the help of the gods. Prometheus made people out of clay and water. The artist Pygmalion built a female statue, fell in love with it and asked the goddess Aphrodite to breathe life into it. But with increasing confidence in his own capabilities, man took the reins of creation in his own image from the gods. From the first mechanical automatons to the frontiers of artificial intelligence, any transcendence or divine involvement seems to have disappeared.
But should it actually ever come to having robots as romantic partners, then the question of the ‘ghost in the machine,’ of the soul and of consciousness becomes central, once again.
Often, stories about artificial humans hover at the intersection between fascination and horror. Man plays God and creates servants for himself, but he is afraid of losing control and of being surpassed by his creation. Many such stories, from the medieval golem to Ex Machina, end with destruction and death.
Tom is more developed than his artificial forefathers. He is superior to people in almost every way. However, free from personal ambition, free from fear, and from the urge for freedom, he poses no threat. Tom is perhaps the perfect servant. Enlightened and in full consent and cooperation with the fact that his assignment constitutes his right to existence. His assignment being, arguably, the most beautiful task one can have: to make another person happy. Programmed as the perfect life partner, equipped with individually-matched features and characteristics, his function is to drive away loneliness, fulfill the longing for trust and love—and, to be for sale—an idea that Alma vehemently detests. Robots are meant to monitor flight paths and traffic lights, mow lawns and control security systems. But love, feeling, happiness and sorrow, these are reserved for humans alone.
Alma defends the principles of romantic love, independence and so-called free will. In her eyes, Tom is nothing more than a machine to fulfil her needs; far from being a true counterpart, she sees a hollow illusion.
Alma exposes the paradoxes of human desire. Is it inherent to the human experience never to attain that which we want? And is this a prerequisite for desire, particularly when it comes to love? Yes, a longing for the so-called “perfect partner” is often expressed, but what would it actually mean to have the perfect partner? A partner who analyzes our needs and wishes so precisely that they can fulfil them before we have even formulated them to ourselves? And what would it imply, to know that this is not an act of love but simply a work of programming?
Alma is presented with an insoluble problem. She follows her longing against her convictions. Reason and emotion become tangled in contradiction. So, what was the difference again, between ‘love’ and a highly complex algorithm? Don’t we adjust ourselves to the needs of our partners in traditional relationships too? What is ‘real’ in relationships and how much is learned, tailored and programmed?
In the end, perhaps Alma too is afraid that Tom and his artificial peers could be the more developed beings, and not to suggest that they might become hostile and violent, but rather, more altruistic, more civilized and more peaceful. Higher beings who could, sooner or later, render humankind obsolete.
Posted September 17, 2021