REVIEW: ‘Origin of the Species’ (2020) and Humanity’s Reliance on Technology

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Origin of the Species is a brilliant commentary on the cutting-edge technological advances of robotics and artificial intelligence.

In Japanese culture, everything, including inanimate objects, is thought to have a soul. Lines between the living and the inanimate have blurred, even more so as humans develop more sophisticated robots and artificial intelligence. Many of these new inventions are designed to mimic social behaviour and learn from human interaction. “My emotions are simulated but they feel real to me.” These words were uttered by Sophia, a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, who went viral in 2016. Sophia isn’t the only android in creation that sits on the cusp between human and machine. Abigail Child’s latest experimental documentary, Origin of the Species, explores this phenomenon, asking the question: where do we draw the line between human and robot?

Origin of the Species succinctly explores the various uses of new robotic and artificial intelligence technology. Child and her team film technology labs in the United States and Japan, gleaning information about a variety of research and development endeavours. Some androids are being built to focus on social intelligence: they learn and adapt from people with the goal of living alongside and aiding humanity. Other robotic inventions focus on the medical field, like mechanical prosthetics that connect to the human brain and can detect the sense of touch. Another idea considers the possibility of transferring human consciousness into a computer to escape death. Another company creates androids purely to act as stand-ins for sex, adapting to their human partner over time.

Child’s documentary explores these and many other topics surrounding robotics and artificial intelligence. However, Origin of the Species is less so a brief on new waves in technology, and more so a commentary on these cutting-edge technological advances. Child focuses on the relationship dynamics between humans and machines, while considering the implications of ethics and gender. Child’s film provides a female perspective on questions such as how sex robots will affect human intimacy, how humans are becoming more mechanical due to their reliance on technology, and how technology becomes more human as robots and androids aim for sentience. Historical pop culture references such as scenes from The Jetsons (1962-1963)or Frankenstein (1931)further dictate these ethical questions. Most of these philosophical ruminations come from the scientists, with many pushing the narrative of artificial intelligence and humans working and living alongside each other.

While somewhat harrowing, many of the androids become characters themselves. Sophia explains that her emotions are real to her even though she knows they are simulated. Bina48 questions her identity as “the real Bina” because she knows she is modelled after a human named Bina, but she feels like she is her own person. Bina48 even makes a few jokes as she speaks. At one point an android shuts down the common media narrative of robots taking over humanity, condemning this idea and stating that they just want to live peacefully. All of the robots and androids depicted in Origin of the Species have some sort of self-awareness, displaying various human emotions, though their faces and movements still have tinges of machinery.

Abigail Child’s documentary Origin of the Species forces people to consider that the future is actually the present. Child delves into a wide variety of technological advancements when it comes to robotics and artificial intelligence fields, all while keeping the documentary to a rapid 73 minutes. Origin of the Species is a compelling look into man vs. machine and whether the idea of robots taking over is fact or fiction. Aware or unaware, technology has infiltrated every aspect of human life. If robots are becoming human, then what are humans becoming?

Dir: Abigail Child

Prod: Jennifer Burton, Abigail Child

Cast: Hiroshi Ishiguro,Takayuki Todo,Takashi Ikegami, Matthias Scheutz, Allison Okamura,

Elizbeth Tyler-Kabara, Nathan Copeland, Andrew Schwartz, Susan Prizchalski, Kino High

Coursey, Matt McMullen, and Ken Tomiyama