The Artifice Girl: Review. By Joe Muldoon.
What happens when artificial intelligence far exceeds the Turing Test? At what point do artificial beings become deserving of equal human rights? How can we be sure that we are in control of our own creation? Franklin Ritch (tripling up as writer, director, and starring actor) asks all of these questions in his latest venture, philosophical sci-fi drama The Artifice Girl. Ritch’s combination of sci-fi and AI ethics is thoroughly captivating, at once simple enough to appeal to the layman, and thought-provoking enough to appeal to philosophers and sci-fi fans alike.
Gareth (played by none other than Ritch himself) is an internet vigilante who develops a new program tasked with capturing online child predators. Initially brought in by the secret service upon suspicion of online predatory behaviour, it soon comes to light that the vigilante has unwittingly been communicating and sharing intel with McCullogh (David Girard), an undercover agent under the supervision of Agent Helms (Sinda Nichols). Gareth has been developing an astoundingly advanced AI called Cherry (played by Tatum Matthews), currently used as a live face-chatbot with the sole purpose of luring child predators.
Though some minor teething issues with the Cherry software exist (particularly with regards to improvisation in verbal exchanges), the bot’s abilities are shocking. Her uncanny humanness provides great discomfort for McCullogh, who is troubled by how Gareth refers to the bot as “her” rather than “it”. Little comfort is given to McCullogh when Gareth argues that he refers to Cherry as “her” in the same way that people do cars or boats – Cherry’s thoughts and desires exist purely within the remit of the source code behind her.
The strength of Ritch’s writing truly shines through his utilisation of time leaps, which effectively split the film up into three sections, each one showing the staggering growth of Cherry’s developmental stages. As she advances, questions of autonomy and rights are brought to the forefront of the team’s debates, McCullogh fiercely against using Cherry for any operations without her consent.
With the rapidly advancing capabilities of AI, at what stage will we consider AI beings to be equals (if not superiors, considering they will eclipse us with their superintelligence), and to be deserving of autonomy? Then, what if these beings –our own creation– have wishes and goals that run contrary to our own? By the time of sci-fi icon Lance Henriksen’s introduction as the elderly Gareth in the film’s third act, Cherry is effectively indistinguishable from a human – does this not make her a person?
Possibly the greatest low-budget science fiction film of recent years –certainly one of the most thought-provoking– The Artifice Girl is a delightfully clever picture, and a very valuable contribution to a constantly-evolving genre. The Ghost In The Shell asked us what it means to be human, Ex Machina asked us if we can trust AI, and The Artifice Girl asks us what we do when AI desires autonomy.
A pandemic production, part of The Artifice Girl’s brilliance resides within the fact that such a minimalist set production is stretched to maximalist bounds. Abstaining from the typical high-octane action sequences to be expected of the genre, it instead strips back any action, replacing it with almost pure dialogue – an uncommon, but welcomed, move for a science fiction picture, and a gamble that paid off. As the story draws to a close, Cherry laments that, “now I’m cursed with pain and sadness”, and a final question is asked of the audience: should we halt nonhuman development not as a safety precaution, but as an act of mercy?
By Joe Muldoon
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