This past week DigLit members gathered in the CIT library–think deep armchairs, microwaved popcorn in paper bags, and a large TV–for a movie night. The film we saw was the 2012 science-fiction comedy Robot & Frank.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll stick to a bare-bones summary: Frank, an ageing jewel thief, is gifted a domestic robot by his son. The robot is supposed to look after the increasingly-forgetful Frank: cook him healthy meals, help him exercise, and suggest new hobbies. Frank, at first, hates the robot, however, he changes his mind when he succeeds in teaching the robot how to pick a lock; Frank thinks he’s found a new partner-in-crime and begins planning a big jewel heist.
Much hilarity ensues.
While the story has many thematic notes: growing old, resistance to change, and the importance of family, the one that resonated most with us–unsurprisingly–is the effect future-technology will have on human relations. As the movie progress, Frank begins to think of the robot as a friend. When Frank’s daughter–furious at her brother for off-loading his responsibility on a robot–visits Frank to look after him, Frank expresses a preference for the robot–especially its cooking. Throughout the movie the robot reminds Frank that it is not a person: it has no feelings and thoughts of its own and is just a program meant to help Frank. Frank however, has a hard time accepting this.
Frank is not alone in his struggle. As illustrated by the ELIZA effect, humans tend to project their emotions onto machines and anthropomorphize them; an ethical challenge future robot-manufacturers should bear in mind.
Robot & Frank gave us a glimpse of the near future: not perfect nor wholly bad, just different.