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Goodnight Oppy (2022)
A 90-day mission becomes a 15-year journey of opportunity.
Filmmaker(s): Ryan White

The inspirational true story of Opportunity, a rover that was sent to Mars for a 90-day mission but ended up surviving for 15 years. Follow Opportunity’s groundbreaking journey on Mars and the remarkable bond forged between a robot and her humans millions of miles away.

Goodnight Oppy (2022)

Projections on the Wall-E

I work in the broad area called AI. I also spent nearly a decade attached to the space station project (before it was international), and while my time was at Houston and with the engineering side, I know the kinds of folks shown here and their energies.

This story is composed of four sources: the copious documentary films taken as the events unfurled, recent interviews with major players involved, an almost indiscernible narrator, and many realistic animations of the rovers. There is quite a bit of art in how these radically diverse parts come together with apparent seamlessness. But what drives it is the notion that this device has a soul.

When a problem is overcome, we assign it to a scrappy tenacity. When a part breaks, we call it ‘arthritic’. When the machine breaks, we say it dies — and my ten year old could not stop crying. This directly aligns with Wall-E and the robot Jeff from ‘Finch’.

Making a film is easier when you have the viewer working for you, and in these cases, we desperately want these machines to seem humanlike. My theory is related to what I call folding in narrative, where we unconsciously sort out what sides of the story different elements are on.

We often move elements from being in the world of the story to the world of the viewer. This is made easier here because the story happened in the real world — it basically just shows us a part of our lives that happened mostly elsewhere.

But part of this is the (to me) strange pull we have to think of AI as human-like. Speaking professionally, this seriously hurts the field in a thousand small biases.

It seems that when the notions that comprise science threatened to erase those that sustain religion in a centuries old competition, we simply moved all our essential urges from one to the other.

I see a dangerous future. Already we have turned the phrase AI to a noun, and asked it to converse, create art, and enter into friendships and collaborations. The limits of what these devices and environments can do is already at a hard barrier, but we rush to endow them.

Posted in 2023

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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