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Friday, January 17, 2014

We need to talk about robots: Spielberg's "A.I." screening with UCF's Dr. Kenneth Stanley @ Enzian

Posted By on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 10:17 AM

As part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Science on Screen series, Enzian will be showing Steven Spielberg's 2001 A.I., which will be presented by Dr. Kenneth Stanley of the University of Central Florida.  

The movie will be preceded by a presentation by Dr. Kenneth Stanley of the University of Central Florida on the present state of the field of artificial intelligence (AI), as well as on real AI research from his own lab at UCF here in Orlando.  In fact, while the “neurone sequencing technology” briefly mentioned in the film is fictional, Dr. Stanley’s lab investigates real artificial neural networks (as well as evolutionary computation), which he will illustrate through several audience-friendly examples.  As an inventor of the widely-used NeuroEvolution of Augmenting Topologies (NEAT) algorithm for evolving large-scale artificial neural networks, Dr. Stanley can provide a unique introduction to the fictional world of AI in the future through his experience in the real world of AI today, 12 years after the movie’s initial debut.  Dr. Stanley has also agreed to hold a Q&A session after the conclusion of the film for those interested in further discussion.

A.I. is a Pinocchio-esque sci-fi set in the not-too-distant future about a family who replaces their sick son with a robotic boy named David (Haley Joel Osment). When their biological son awakens from his comatose state, the family find they cannot handle the robot David any longer and abandon him in the middle of the woods, as horrible people do to their dogs. David goes on a search to find his mother again, trying along the way to become a real boy so she will love him. The film is driven by imperfections, both of the film itself and of David, who is brilliant as a computer and realistic, but lacks the smooth edges and emotional refinement of a real person.

Upon its release in 2001, the film was not received as kindly as Senor Spielbergo and his team had hoped for. The general feeling was that Spielberg had neutered the source material for what should have been the next brilliant film from Stanley Kubrick, who had been developing the project for some time prior to his death. In fact, it was Kubrick himself who insisted Spielberg take on the project, and began sending him reams of late-night faxes about the project and what his vision for it was. Oh, to read those faxes. It does seem that it was Kubrick who had most of the ideas that Spielberg is "blamed" for, principally the ending, though surely they would have been filmed and presented differently with Kubrick at the helm.

Still, it was a film I fell in love with upon seeing it in the theater. It's a film that was ahead of its time, though. We didn't have Siri or Google then. As a country, we were still on dial-up (if we were online at all), and viewing the world at 480p. It's a hot topic now, because of Her and its learning, personalized operating system, Samantha, played by Scarlett Johansson. A.I. and Her both present interesting, though very different, questions and takes on the subject.

The screening takes place at noon  Saturday, Jan. 18. Tickets are $8, or $5 for members.

See Enzian's site for more info.

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