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Publicity still for The Manual (2017) from imdb.com

A Mind Matters Review: AI Week at DUST, the sci-fi short films channel

Films you have time to see and think about

Looking for a good “robots, AI, ‘n sci-fi” fix to round out your weekend? Mind Matters has you covered for animations and shorts. For starters, check out DUST, a YouTube channel dedicated to short sci-fi. Its recent AI WEEK (February 11–18) offered “A collection of curated short films dedicated to artificial intelligence and its connection with humanity.”

When I say “short,” I mean that the longest is about 30 min; the others are much shorter. So if you have just a few minutes to kill while downing a bowl of spicy curry ramen, I would recommend giving them a watch. For AI narratives, they’re not as clichéd as you might fear.

Sunspring | DUST AI Week

  • Runtime | 8:15
  • Cleanliness | 5/5
  • Would I Recommend? | 4/5

Sunspring is… hilarious. The 8-minute film, directed by Oscar Sharp, isn’t about AI; it was written by AI, specifically by an LSTM RNN Neural Network called Benjamin. The film is utterly incoherent but ridiculously hilarious at the same time. I recommend it for the sheer, awe-inspiring, god-like screenwriting. Just kidding, of course; the screenplay is terrible. Beyond diving deep into this abyss, you might want to check out Mind Matters director Robert J. Marks ’s thoughts on the perils and pitfalls of automating art: “Screenwriters’ Jobs Are Not Threatened by AI” and “AI Hype: AI Can Write Novels and Screenplays Better than the Pros!

NoRo | DUST AI Week

  • Runtime | 18:20
  • Cleanliness | 5/5
  • Would I Recommend? | 4/5

An emotional ride jolted by fake memories. Or are they fake? As a film about loss, it conveys the agony through attention to ambiance and subtle cues from tight shots of lethargic expressions. The silent, blurred memories of a long-ago happiness flash by, reminding us. By the middle of the short, my heart had been through a feature film’s worth of emotional turbulence. That being said, I was expecting a twist. I won’t spoil the ending, but I highly recommend this one. I’ve written on the topic of AI and emotion before and found a lot of assumptions that NoRo shares with similar films. Pain is an emotion, much like love, but it is felt and expressed in a much different way. It’s a near perfect example of a black and white dichotomy. I may take this up again later.

 The Manual | DUST AI Week

  • Runtime | 26:42
  • Cleanliness | 5/5
  • Would I Recommend? | 3.5/5

“Now that was interesting…”, I immediately thought as the credits rolled. I would love to succinctly summarize the message of this post-apocalyptic short, but I’m not entirely sure what I just watched. I wasn’t left drooling from the abstractions as I was with Tree of Life but much is open to interpretation. The major reveal comes at the end; the first 25 minutes or so are spent following a character around a post-apocalyptic landscape as he grapples with an existential crisis: He was raised by an android because his parents died when he was just a baby. Naturally, he wonders if there are others out there like him. I won’t spoil the ending, and I would be curious to hear others’ interpretations. But if this short isn’t saturated with religious symbolism and metaphor, then I’m not sure what is.

Upload:U | DUST A.I. Week

  • Runtime | 10:16
  • Cleanliness | 3/5
  • Would I Recommend? | 2/5

This film quickly escalated into something I was not expecting. WARNING: While there is no nudity or explicit language per se, there are scenes that some may find too graphic; avoid this short if you suspect you are one of them. While highlighting the dark and malevolent consequences of AI, this short takes an approach that goes beyond the usual “Humans are waste that must be destroyed” trope. It’s… interesting, I suppose. To be honest, it was too far out of the box for me.

Happy weekend viewing!

Also by Adam Nieri: Alita: Battle Angel (2019), A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita


Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri, Program Assistant, has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

A Mind Matters Review: AI Week at DUST, the sci-fi short films channel