Chappie

Chappie July 27, 2015

I recently watched the movie Chappie. It poignantly conveys a point that I also sought to get across in my chapter on “Robots, Rights, and Religion” in Religion and Science Fiction: that what is most scary about artificial intelligences is that they will resemble us in all our shortcomings. But it also makes other crucial points – that children can receive love even from a family that is involved in crime, that children can transform the lives of their parents, and that children can achieve great things even in spite of the influences upon them in their formative years (or, in the case of Chappie, days).

The movie is peppered with religious language, and I will survey some of it here. Hugh Jackman’s character Vincent, the first time he sees Chappie, asks “What in the name of the Lord?” He later refers to Chappie as “godless monster” more than once.

A conversation about a book called The Black Sheep leads to discussion of the soul and afterlife – “the next place.”

There is discussion of how Deon, Chappie’s maker, made him in a body that will die in a few days. Why would a benevolent creator make a creation that is destined to die?

The file used to cause the CPUs of the robotic officers to malfunction is called Genesis.dat.

Before the big heist, “Ninja” bows before a gun, making the sign of cross.

Chappie says he hates Vincent, the man who killed his mommy (Yolandi). Teaches him a lesson, beating him up, then says “I forgive you bad man.”

Deon says at one point, “We don’t know what consciousness is, so we can’t move it.” But Chappie uses the internet to figure out how to analyze his consciousness. Chappie tries to save his maker by transferring his consciousness to a new body, a police droid test dummy. It works, and Chappie says now he will live forever. Deon then finds a way to save Chappie, transferring his consciousness to the nearest police droid. We also learn that Chappie had made a back-up of his mommy’s consciousness. When she is buried, Chappie promises to make her a new body. Although the robot program is halted at Tetravaal, Chappie hacks in and creates a body for his “mommie,” saying now they are both black sheep.

Have you seen Chappie? What did you make of its treatment of personhood, of crime prevention, and of religious themes? And do you think that the film is mainly about artificial intelligence, or is it even more a message about families, love, and upbringing that has a message for how human children need to be cared for, however much it may also apply to AIs in the future?

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  • histrogeek

    I saw Chappie awhile back when it was in theaters. I thought it did a great job of dealing with the themes of developing morals, even among the human characters. I liked that Chappie’s moral sense was developed not just innately from his creator and his creator’s infrequent interactions, but also from his criminal family. And the way that the criminals interact with his developing self-awareness, from affection (Yolandi) to abuse and anger (Ninja) to manipulation and lies (America) was fascinating.
    The script kind of cheated in the third act by a distracting fight set piece rather than dealing with how Chappie could deal with the legitimate betrayal he has experienced, learning that everyone he loves has been using him without regard for him. It could have been a really strong emotional statement on growing up, but then we get lots of BOOM!

  • Personhood would be kinda weird in a world of transferable consciousnesses. Would it count as killing someone if you destroy one of a person’s digital manifestations? At what point does a computer program gain legal protection as a human life?

    For crime prevention: fear sabotage and respect the importance of computer security. Also, 24/7 camera surveillance at all times in sensitive areas, with backup generators.

  • Pliny the in Between

    I have been involved in the development of AI for close to 20 years. From my perspective the issue is less about AI sharing our foibles but more about recognizing that since AI is evolving in a very different ocean from our own, it will be very different from how we think. Human brains evolved under pressures very different from the types of problems they are being asked to manage in modern times. Conversely, AIs are being developed with those problems at the forefront as well as a greater understanding of human cognitive bias.