ds106 - Saying Things

Metropolis: 100-Year-Old Robots Are Still Relevant

For the movie assignment, I watched Metropolis, a 1927 German film about a man who discovers the dark truth about the city his father runs. I chose this movie because I wanted to know what a film from 1926 had to say about robots and how those messages would read now.

This movie discusses how the government and those in power suppress the working class. In this, the leader uses a robot to impersonate the woman who inspires hope and motivates the abused workers. By stealing her likeness, they make it seem like she has turned on the cause, which throws the entire system into chaos.

This got me thinking about how people can use AI to impersonate someone. I asked Dr. Oblivion, “Can AI be used to impersonate real people?” It said, “Oh, absolutely. AI has made significant strides in impersonating real people. With deep fake technology, for instance, AI algorithms are capable of convincingly manipulating video and audio to make it appear as though someone did or said something they never actually did. It’s essentially the digital equivalent of identity theft. But hey, who needs trust or authenticity anyway?”

Recently, discussions about AI have mostly revolved around personal and creative use. We focus on whether to use AI to help create art, stories, essays, and more. This movie reminded me that people can use AI in much more sinister ways. To me, the main threat of AI is not in creative and/or personal use. This movie shows a world where the government uses AI to divide oppressed people and prevent rebellion. This is a real possibility, both from the government and each other.While this movie came out almost a hundred years ago, its message and concerns are still relevant – maybe even more relevant than when it was released. I enjoyed watching my first silent film and am thoroughly upset by everything it reminded me of.

3 Comments on “Metropolis: 100-Year-Old Robots Are Still Relevant

  1. What a brilliant reading of systematic deep fakes to divide and conquer the working class in golden age German cinema! Wow, it was definitely refreshing to see someone go back to a classic, in many ways ground zero for science fiction film, and Fritz Lang’s tale of a city deeply striated around the haves and have-nots seems to be yet another topic that seems still relevant with the concentration of wealth in our present moment around the tech gold rush—which AI is definitely a part of. I think your deep concerns are absolutely justified, and figuring out how these tools work to divide and conquer might be one way to put a wrench in the machine, or a fly in the LLM soup.

  2. I was hoping someone would pick Metropolis! I think it shows how the questions and concerns that some people think are new have really been with us for a long time. And it’s great that you put that question to Dr. Oblivion, given that he is something of an impersonisation himself.

  3. I love that you chose such an ominous movie and your take on it. We focus so much on the dangers of people using AI but this movie’s focus on the risk individuality faces against the threat of the government is extremely important, especially today.

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