Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
Alice is here to help, or at least she will be soon. A 60-centimetre tall robot, with a doll-like face, a camera behind her eyes, and the body of, well, a robot, Alice, made by the American firm Hanson Robotic, is being programmed by a research group at Amsterdam’s Free University to provide companionship and assistance to elderly people living alone.
This doco accompanies three Alices separately placed on a pilot scheme with three women in their 80s, and observes the markedly different relationships that develop. ‘I’d prefer a real person’, says one as Alice is settled in. ‘Oh, that’s a shame’, Alice replies, and gradually curiosity overcomes resistance and a conversation is underway. Meanwhile, researchers inspect the robot-eye evidence and fall upon every pause or glitch in robot response as a programming challenge. Experienced health-care workers called in for advice about elderly needs are both apprehensive and sceptical about the likelihood they will be replaced by the caredroids.
Barely editorialising for a moment, this simple account of android life in the real world turns out to be the most profound, heartrending and morally challenging film about artificial intelligence yet.