Review by Camden Ferrell
Premiering at the 2019 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, iHuman is the newest film from Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei. This film makes an ambitious attempt at consolidating a complex topic for viewers, and even if the results can be mixed at times, this is a timely, informative, and troubling documentary.
This film deals with the rise of artificial intelligence, how it is being used presently, and its future capabilities. It includes interviews from some of the leading experts in this field, and it features some examples of the current uses of AI. It’s a timely premise that needs to be explored thoroughly as we enter this unprecedented and uncertain age of technology in the years to come.
The direction of this movie was generally solid from start to finish. It’s a fairly well-organized film in terms of its structure, and Hessen Schei has a knack for creating some interconnections between all of the film’s elements. The message and agenda of Hessen Schei is noble and significant, and the way the film was pieced together is able to convey these ideas effectively.
The interviews themselves are hit or miss. Some of the interviews, like with the father of modern AI Jürgen Schmidhuber, are really interesting. However, there are some other interviewees that aren’t nearly as interesting and don’t add much to the film qualitatively. Luckily, the topic is far from tired, so all of the perspectives are at least directly concerned with a fascinating topic.
The main problem with this film is how broad its aim is. It tries to explore a sizeable chunk of the field of AI and modern technology, that it can feel intimidating. The film seems to bite off way more than it can chew in its runtime, and some sections feel superficial as a result. The topic is so interesting that the runtime could have well-exceeded two hours without losing its momentum or insight.
With what information it does present, it’s absolutely captivating and relevant. Even if its presentation isn’t as polished as it could have been, the themes and ideas discussed are important for this exact moment. There are a lot of great sections about current facial recognition technology and how this can be used against the public.
Even though it’s a documentary, it’s a tense film that will make you feel uneasy. It begs the question of what governments and corporation are capable to do with this revolutionary technology. It makes us question our own safety and security in a world that is becoming increasingly digital. The film allows you to see that AI can either be the greatest invention ever or mankind’s final invention.
There are some moments that feel hollow, and the exploration of its subjects are somewhat superficial, but iHuman is an undoubtedly relevant documentary. It’s worrying, but it’s supposed to be. There is much more the learn about AI after watching, but this film should be a decent starting point for viewers.
iHuman is premiering as a part of the online edition of the 2020 Hot Docs Film Festival.