iHuman - the shape of things to come?

iHuman - the shape of things to come?

 Tonje Hessen Schei’s iHuman, which world-premieres in IDFA Frontlight, offers a sobering, some may argue terrifying, assessment of AI and its seemingly inevitable trajectory towards a state of self-sufficiency. The human species, a number of people in her film suggest, will  be major collateral damage in the future.


We encounter a smorgasbord of talking heads in Schei’s English-language Norwegian film, and sample a feast of ominous portent.

Tech developer Jurgen Schmidhuber, who is referred to as “the father of AI,” and who pioneered its use in facial and voice recognition, describes himself as “not a human-centric person, [rather] a stepping stone in the evolution of the universe towards higher complexity…setting the stage for something that is bigger than us and transcends us.” 

Controversial data scientist and academic Michal Kosinski, whose work supposedly influenced that of the now-notorious Cambridge Analytica stresses how, across the planet, “polarisation and conflict is driven by algorithms.”

Ilya Sutskever, Chief Scientist at Elon Musk’s OpenAI, warns that it is essential to programme the first AGIs (the next generation of technologies with the ability to perform tasks in a manner way and beyond the competence of any human) correctly first time. “Otherwise the nature of evolution of natural selection will favour those systems [which will] prioritize their own survival above all else.”

Meanwhile, European Commissioner Vĕra Jourová asks of facial recognition technology, “What would Mengele [have done] to have such an instrument in his hands? It would be very quick and efficient for selection.”

So, who is being more delusional here? The millions who believe that human hegemony will prevail, as per past millennia, or scientists who herald a technological future in which humankind will be sidelined and rendered superfluous?

“To me when you look at the amazingly exponentially rapid development of AI it is definitely time right now that we stop and ask these questions. How did AI change us as human beings… and who is programming the codes for what kind of world we want to live in?” director Schei responds.

“After having spent close to 5 years on the inside of the AI industry and spending so much time with all these pioneers that are developing this technology, I truly believe that we will see that AI is just as smart or smarter than us very soon. I know a lot of people don’t believe that this is going to happen, but knowing how fast this technology has developed, and how we are getting more computing power and more data that is feeding this technology, I don’t look at the people we follow in iHuman as delusional.”

“To me they represent an attitude that we are seeing in the AI industry, basically that everything is possible, and you see how science fiction is becoming reality all over the place.”

Schei points to the small and very selective community of “a very few, very young, extremely rich white men” who are the world’s power brokers in AI, “and they are then [part of] a race between nations like the US and China, so we are also up against this basic AI race where ethical considerations and what benefits us as human are not the main priority – and that to me is an extremely scary situation.”

She further pinpoints a “revenge of the nerds” scenario whereby “young men who sit and programme AI  have spent most of their lives in front of computer screens, and their life experience and their view of the world is also very narrow, which is extremely concerning to me.”

What comfort can we therefore derive from Schei’s film? Relatively little, she responds.

“This technology has amazing potential for good, and I really hope that we get to see some of these promises come through. Already we are seeing amazing potential for what this could do for our health in finding cures for diseases like cancer, and during this production I met with Amnesty and Unicef that have [received] all kinds of great grants for what they would like to do with this technology to make their work easier and more efficient, and to reach more people.

“But the benefits that we are reaping from this technology are totally outweighed by all the challenges that this technology comes with, and until we solve that and some of the power structures behind this technology, it is hard for me to even think about the goods, because right now most of the money that is poured into the AI industry goes into spying, brainwashing and killing.”

“And we already know that AI is amplifying and strengthening our existing biases…when it comes to job selections or people getting insurance, not to mention predictive policing. So until we have solved the main problems with this technology I don’t think that we should be implementing it into our structures in society, and that is a very important thing for me,” she ends.