What if robots, rather than developing intelligence that destroys the world, developed feelings instead? Would empathy prevent machines from enslaving mankind?
That thoughtful premise lies at the heart of "Chappie," a new science-fiction action film directed by Academy Award-nominated screenwriters Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell. While artificial intelligence is certainly nothing new to Hollywood—nor is a robot as a main character—"Chappie's" motif puts a new spin on an old trope.
Rather than having an artificially intelligent machine slaughter mankind, a la "The Terminator" or "The Matrix," the title character develops feelings and attaches itself to an unlikely group of parental figures. Movies like "Ex Machina" and Steven Spielberg's 2001 noirish effort "AI: Artificial Intelligence" have also flirted with the idea of an empathetic robot, with mixed success.
This movie arrives at an auspicious juncture, as the world is coming to terms with advances in technology that encroach on everyday human tasks. According to "Chappie's" script writers, the budding AI debate was largely tangential to the film's development.
Rather than serving as a commentary about robot sentience, "Chappie" philosophizes about how humans are often more depraved than the machines they fear, co-writer Tatchell told CNBC in a phone interview.
"We were speaking more about humanity and how we behave, similar themes as 'District 9'. We do not behave humanely," said Tatchell, who also co-wrote the Oscar-nominated "District 9" with husband Blomkamp. Instead of humanizing the concept of a sentient robot, "Chappie" aims to teach humans about behaving better toward one another. As for the timing of the movie—which hits screens as robotics is becoming a hot topic in business and science—Tatchell suggested that was a coincidence.
"We kind of got lucky with that one," Tatchell laughed.