Lost in Space shows a long-running problem with stories about AI

Warning: spoilers in front of Netflix's Lost in Space .

In the first episode of the new Lost in Space of Netflix Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) discovers a robot (Brian Steele) and saves him from an extended forest fire. As a result, it seems to imprint itself on him, following him and obeying him like a loyal pet. When Will is held responsible for the safety of another being, he begins to mature. The robot also begins to develop and becomes an integral part of the Robinson family in its struggle to adjust its prejudices and preconceived ideas about artificial intelligence. And then the series abruptly abandons this plot and all the questions about AI.

Lost in Space is one of the many properties that use robots as a way to support and reflect stories about human growth. The way in which characters choose to treat artificial intelligences is often a primary indicator of how the audience should perceive them and how their characters will develop. Will, for example, is clearly a central protagonist, since he immediately refers to the robot as "he" instead of "he", a person instead of an object. Everyone else takes time to adapt. Will's mother (Molly Parker) sees a tool; his father (Toby Stephens) sees a threat; Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) sees a weapon. And all of them, including Will's brothers, take a while to get used to seeing the robot as a living thing instead of an object, if they manage to make the change.

The AI ​​story of Lost in Space should feel familiar to anyone remotely interested in science fiction. The Iron Giant is probably the most direct parallel, since it also follows a kind of "child and dog" structure. Like Will, Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) finds a robot (Vin Diesel) and befriends him. It is an alien entity with destructive capabilities, which immediately makes it seem dangerous to adults in Hogarth's life. But Hogarth knows better: the robot is able to learn and grow, and finally transcends its intended purpose and becomes a superhero. And Hogarth also grows up, facing the nature of death, as he explained to the Giant earlier in the film.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Lost in Space follows a similar trajectory, in the growth of Will runs parallel to the robot. He tells him to be good instead of following his destructive impulses. He helps him recompose himself in the same way that Hogarth helps the Giant. And The Lost in Space robot briefly wins camp approval after defending himself from a group of monsters, just as the Giant wins the city of Hogarth by preventing two children from falling from the ceiling.

Unfortunately, where The Iron Giant contains an elegant bow, Lost in space sputters. Finally convinced that the robot can pose a threat, Will tells him to destroy himself. So it moves away from a cliff and leaves the story for a while. The reasoning behind the choice of writers is quite obvious: it provides an opportunity for the robot to fall into the wrong hands, especially considering how it falls apart with Will, but given the number of narrative threads the writers are balancing on This initial season is more of a death sentence for the AI ​​bow.

By the time the robot returns, there is not enough time for its arc to resolve, "Is it a bad robot, or not?" Their capacity for development and their human traits are abandoned, resulting in an unsatisfactory ending in a story with much more potential. The AI ​​scan is a rich narrative field, because there is a lot of mystery about this. The type of AI that populates movies and television is still far from being developed, and humanity is only beginning to take into account the ethics and implications of created intelligence.

Courtesy of Netflix

Blade Runner is probably the best – well-known example of deep-field digging, as well as one of the best executed. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a professional "blade runner", a killer who "removes" replicants, a type of Android biorobot. The replicants are not considered living beings, even if they have human ambitions and emotions. They are even made with life lapses established for the express purpose of preventing them from becoming more human. As your innate humanity becomes more and more obvious, the line between heroes and villains fluctuates. That makes it more heartbreaking when Deckard's nature begins to be questioned.

Animation film 2001 by Katsuhiro Otomo Metropolis treads a similar territory in terms of using AI to explore how people treat each other and what they perceive as "others" in the search for what what do they want. But he gets a little closer to The Iron Giant and Lost in Space in having a firmly human protagonist. The robots of Metropolis are subject to mistreatment and discrimination, and the anti-robot sentiment in the city is so strong that the robots have been relegated to the lower levels of the city. Meanwhile, groups of vigilantes work explicitly to worsen the existence of robots. Supporting ourselves narratively is a lot, but the story works because the focus on the relationship between the human Kenichi (Kei Kobayashi) and the robot Tima (Yuka Imoto) is so carefully cultivated and sustained, and because there is more than a simple dichotomy of good and wrong.

Courtesy of Columbia TriStar

Towards the end of Lost in space the disordered quality of the story suggests a further comparison with that of Chapitie by Neill Blomkamp . This film deals with the idea of ​​AI with the same sense of convenience: the question being addressed changes according to what is easiest for the plot, instead of serving the characters. Sometimes, AI is in history to make an observation about otherness. Sometimes it is to interrogate mortality. And sometimes it's just for fun. There are other similarities in how Chappie and Lost in space configured their main robot / human relationships to resemble the dynamics between a father and a son. Chappie manages to delve a little deeper into the idea, since the end of the film suggests that both the synthetic robot of the same name and the humans around it are still learning from each other. In Lost in space the balance is not equal. By the time the robot returns to the narrative, Will seems to have made the growth he needs for himself.

Lost in Space raises some intriguing problems that are often at the core of any AI story, but the way in which writers simplify the robot arc undermines the story. And so does the introduction of a second robot at the end of season 1 of the program. The second robot is clearly evil, relentless in its attempt to destroy the Robinsons. And the simplicity with which it is treated feels strange, given the insistence of the story that Will's robot is sensitive and can change and learn. This action-driven turn undermines everything the series has said about Will's robot, and even about Will himself. Even the gradual change of the feelings of the other characters towards the robot feels random rather than won. The Robinson family came to accept the robot at the end of the season, but it seems to be for the sake of moving the plot, rather than through any kind of organic growth.

Using AI to parallel and reflect stories about human growth is a common tactic, and it's easy to see why: they are human substitutes literally and metaphorically, and they offer a lens that we use to evaluate how we treat someone different from us . But the thread of the plot needs sustained attention and a commitment to work, as the place of artificial intelligence demands as mirrors for its human counterparts. People are more complicated than simply being good or bad, and the AI ​​that reflects them must be treated with the same level of care. Otherwise, the whole company collapses, or, at the risk of being simplistic, is lost in space.

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