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‘Do You Trust This Computer?’ (review)

Produced by Tiffany Asakawa, Jessie Deeter
Written by Mark Monroe
Directed by Chris Paine
Featuring James Barrat, David Ferrucci,
Sean Gourley, Hannes Grassegger, Eric Horvitz,
Rana el Kaliouby, Elon Musk, Andrew Ng,
Jonathan Nolan, Tim Urban, Shivon Zilis


This film opens with a Mary Shelley quote from Frankenstein and from there it gets extremely scary.

The scariest part is none of it is fiction. It’s a documentary, and a good one.

To be sure Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and all the associated technologies are amazingly cool. The applications for advanced computing in medicine alone are so staggering it boggles the mind. There will be cures for disease because smart medicine will be designed to reprogram our genome to eradicate whatever ails us.

We may be able to solve aging and live disease free for eternity, but what happens when self aware systems begin to ponder what ails them?

Before we get into the existential horror of this well written, well crafted piece of documentary movie making, let’s look at the real world horror.

Jobs are going to disappear by the millions.

About five minutes into the film, director Chris Paine makes a strong case that radiology is over as a profession. That’s just the beginning. Autonomous vehicle might save 1 million lives a year globally. How many jobs will they destroy? (Hint: WAY more than 1 million in the US alone)

If you need a human reason to watch this film, I have two words for you, Ray Kurzweil.

Kurzweil’s job title is futurist, but what he really does is provide the connective tissue for all the concepts that are discussed in the documentary. If this type of bleeding edge thought is something that attracts you, I strongly suggest picking up his book, The Singularity is Near, where he talks in great detail about some of the concepts that are touched upon in this documentary.

From a movie making perspective there is a lot to like about Do You Trust This Computer? The production values are extremely high and all the experts who do the talking are actual experts. Kurzweil is MIT educated and he is just one of many well credentialed people on the screen freaking us out. It’s well scripted, well paced and the editing is outstanding. We never lose the narrative thread.

There is no good or bad when talking about technology, but the application of the technology is what will end up defining whether it is good for mankind, or decidedly not.

Stuart Russel from UC Berkley wrote the definitive work on AI and he features prominently in the narrative.

He says, “How could a smarter machine not be a better machine? It’s hard to say exactly when I began to think that was a bit naive.”

Here’s the scary part. One of the smartest men alive, who is one of the leading experts in artificial intelligence just said, and I paraphrase, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” If you aren’t freaked out, you aren’t paying attention.

Want to watch this film yet?

No? Let’s keep going.

  • Google’s AI said, “The purpose of life is to live forever.”
  • Microsoft’s AI spent some time on Twitter and turned into a racist pretty quickly.
  • Facebook’s AI started talking to itself in a language it created and it’s engineers couldn’t understand.

If there is one take away from this film, it’s this.

The genie will get out of the bottle. Humanity is not prepared for that eventuality. Preparedness starts with awareness.

AI has beaten chess. It’s beaten Go. It’s beaten poker. These are extremely complex, extremely human games that have infinite variables and after fumbling around for a relatively short amount of time, AI wins. It isn’t just games. Robot managed mutual funds are performing extremely well. How many stockbrokers, equities traders, commodity brokers and fund managers are there on Earth? In 10 years it’s possible that number drops to 0.

That’s not the scary scenario.

The scary scenario is AI giving us what we ask it for, Technology has no humanity so a smart system’s decision making process won’t consider human cost when making a decision.

Here is a hypothetical nightmare: If a bot managed hedge fund is told to make money in the transportation industry it will try and follow those instructions. Through its learning matrix it analyzes every market condition in the history of transportation. It realizes that if it takes a short position on the major airline stocks and then a crash happens, it’s going to make a lot of money on the short since the market will respond to the crash with substantial pricing pressure on the stock.

What’s a really likely outcome?

The bot tries to manufacture the market conditions it needs to cover the short position. It hacks a plane or two and crashes them, the airline stocks crash and the bot gets rich, which is its singular goal, because that’s how humanity defined it.

“Open the pod bay doors Hal”

“I can’t do that Dave”


After watching this film I predict the average person will seriously consider building an underground bunker that is completely off the grid, because you know… Skynet.

Watch Do You Trust This Computer? – If you can answer YES after you see it, leave me a comment and let’s talk about it.

My answer is HELL NO!

5 out of 5 stars.


Do You Trust This Computer? opens today at Cinema Village in NY
and will be available On Demand 8/21


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