It’s almost 11pm in Australia, but Guy Pearce is full of energy. He’s talking about robots.
The star of Memento and L.A. Confidential has just been in a film called Donny the Drone — a post-apocalyptic short in which an initially friendly-looking robot (voiced by Pearce) is given a humanitarian award.
It’s a beautifully-shot, Black Mirror-esque dive into a debate that’s been terrifying Stephen Hawking, the entire tech industry and pretty much everyone who’s ever seen a single sci-fi film: what is going to happen to us if technology keeps advancing at its current, near light-speed rate?
Pearce, it turns out, is just as obsessed as the rest of us.
“I’m so fascinated by our fascination with technology,” he tells me on our call.
“You know, you look at the scale, you look at the progression of this, and you think, well, how far can we go?”
When it comes to machines like the artificially intelligent drone featured in the film, though, Pearce has mixed feelings.
“I think we have this very dark and strange compulsion to reproduce ourselves,” he says. “And not just in the natural way of having children but in the idea of creating a robot and being able to communicate with that robot, and then have that robot do things for us.”
On the one hand, Pearce says, it’s exciting and brilliant that we’ve managed to create these things. But it does raise some big questions.
“Can we develop the brain of this computer or this robot that we’re creating to the point where we actually become equals?” Pearce wonders. “Or where perhaps this robot surpasses our own intelligence?”
Donny the Drone and the society’s fear of AI
Directed by 26-year-old film-maker Mackenzie Sheppard, Donny the Drone tells the story of a super-smart drone that’s managed to win the Person of the Year award for his humanitarian work.
Donny has a sweet little face and a soothing voice. He buzzes around the stage and describes, with the aid of some scenic video footage, the journey across the world that’s led him to this point. The whole thing starts off wholesomely enough, but — as this is artificial intelligence we’re talking about — the fear of the future (and machines) is lurking right around the corner.
“I think our fear of what we’re capable of – and therefore meaning what we’re capable of creating – probably scares us,” explains Pearce.
“Are we going to turn in on ourselves?”
“And I think for most of us, who sort of sit at home and go to our fairly standard jobs and do what it is that we do — that aren’t governments creating military-style machines and computers, etc. — we’re probably sitting here going, ‘What are they creating next?’
“‘Are we going to implode? Are we going to turn in on ourselves?'”
It’s all very exciting to watch TV shows about technology and marvel at robots that can vacuum the house, says Pearce, but how far is it all going to go?
“I do think that society’s fear about it is valid,” he says. “I think probably it’s complex and it’s confused, because it’s also infused with the excitement about potential and possibility.
“But you look at how depressed the world can be, how much we’re destroying in the world, on this planet, on this green and blue planet that we live on… so all of this wonderful technology we’re creating, we know that we’re destroying ourselves with it.”
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