The character of David, in Steven Spielberg’s movie Artificial Intelligence:AI (2001) challenges all of our preconceptions about robots. David is an android that looks like the world’s most adorable ten-year old boy, with advanced artificial intelligence and the unique potential for an emotional relationship with a human being.
When Monica, his adoptive mother, activates an irreversible imprinting protocol, David becomes capable of emotion, of loving her with an unconditional love that will last until he is destroyed.
When he is ultimately abandoned by the mother he loves, David is convinced, like Pinocchio, that if the Blue Fairy can make him “real”, his mother will love and accept him forever.
In this science fiction re-telling of a fairy tale classic, David sets out on a perilous journey accompanied by his robotic teddy, a journey which eventually leads David to the terrible realization that he is one of many robot mechas - mechanicals - and not unique, not special, not real, and not human.
The journey ends with a poignant reunion between mother and robot child, where they lie down together at the end of “one perfect day”, where David finally feels both special and real through the expressions of love from his human mother.
Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder and director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, writes about AI and David that
“… the pressing issue is not the potential reality of a robot who ‘loves’ but the feelings of the adoptive mother in the film – a human being whose response to a machine that asks for nurturance is the desire to nurture it and whose response to a non-biological creature who reaches out to her is to feel attachment and horror, love and confusion. Even today we are faced with relational artifacts that elicit human responses that have things in common with those of the mother in A.I. Decisions about the role of robots in the lives of children and seniors cannot turn simply on whether children and the elderly ‘like’ the robots … What kind of relationships are appropriate to have with machines? And what is a relationship?”
DAVID … for inspiring us with a new vision of future relationships between humans and robots … and how intense, complex, satisfying, and challenging they will certainly become … we welcome you, DAVID, to The Robot Hall of Fame!