New movie Zoe puts Artificial Intelligence back in the spotlight

ZOE FILM

It’s the humans, not the robots, that need a reboot in this sci-fi romance

Words by Camille Hogg

As humans, we’ve speculated on the potential power – and threat – of robots for decades.

Since the 1920s, when Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the phrase, the concept has constantly straddled the line between the benevolent bot to cyborg gone bad, and it’s only in the last couple of decades that a life lived peacefully alongside robots has started to become more of a possible – and positive – prospect.

After all, we’ve already become great chums with Amazon’s Alexa in our homes, we tell the Roomba to clean up after us and we routinely ask Apple’s Siri for help on the go – so it could be argued that we’re already getting on just fine.

But the next frontier for robotics in this brave new world is the troubling topic of sentience, and how we’ll relate to our new android members of society. The ramifications of this potential human-android relationship is something that Zoe explores.

The film follows scientists Zoe and Cole, who work at Relationist, a company exploring the different ways that technology can improve romantic connections. From using artificial intelligence to match up humans based on compatibility to creating eerily human-like synthetic companions – or ‘synths’ as they’re known – the organisation offers a new, more hopeful future for lonely humans.

Working closely together on their project, Zoe and Cole soon fall in love. But when their intelligent computer puts them at zero per cent in the compatibility stakes, Cole breaks things off.

Reeling from the break-up, Zoe falls into the arms of Ash, a synth so lifelike that the line between robot and human becomes blurred, begging the unspoken question whether artificial intelligence is capable of real, human feelings.

For director Drake Doremus, the problem is less about whether or not robots and humans can coexist and more about how humans relate to one another – or fail to – in the world after the technological revolution.

“I didn’t want to make a genre piece,” he said when the film premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival last year. “It’s not a story about robots. It’s a story about humans and the idea that we’re all missing something, whether we’re synthetic or not.

“Hopefully it’s a very modern movie about all the struggles that everyone goes through thinking about how technology can somehow fix any hole in your heart, and how at the end of the day, we’re just humans still and we’re trying to figure that out.”

While critics have drawn inevitable comparisons to 2013’s Her and 2014’s Ex Machina in its pre-release showings, it seems clear that while androids are likely to infiltrate our society at some point, it’s our flaws, at least, that keep our human connection alive.

“I think the idea that you can engineer something to be perfect for you is kind of ridiculous, in a lot of ways,” Doremus notes in an interview with deadline.com. “More than ever, I genuinely feel like the things that are flawed about human beings are the most important things about a relationship, and finding peace in those things.”

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Léa Seydoux, Theo James, Rashida Jones and Miranda Otto. Rating: 18+. Running time: 105 mins

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