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How To Be Human: A Mind Matters Short Film Review

This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down

Most AI sci-fi chronicles the struggle of sentient artificially intelligent (AI) beings grappling with how to become human. That makes sense from the viewer’s perspective. If I firmly believed that our humble video game algorithms would evolve into thinking, feeling beings, then I would, of course, conclude that they would struggle as they grappled with their newfound humanity. But a recent DUST release, How To Be Human, takes that narrative—and turns it upside down.

Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world. Kimi (one of the protagonists) undertakes a journey in which she sheds all those things that make her human. Leaving behind her emotions and her capacity for love, she morphs into something different, hoping for a better life.

In the film, humanity inhabits a post-apocalyptic society; AI lives in Cold City, a walled-off paradise separate from what remains of human civilization. If Kimi and Adelphine (Kimi’s sister) can shed their humanity, the walled city offers a much more promising future. While the film can be hard to follow at times (five minutes in, I was still wondering if the protagonists were human or AI), the Audio Description Version was immensely helpful in clearing up the narrative.

The Director’s Statement tells us, “This story reminds us of how being born in the right place and the right time can so often lead us to take our freedom and basic rights for granted.” I was somewhat puzzled because I did not read that interpretation from the film at all.

Sure, if you stretch the film a bit, put it in the microwave, reshape it, and paint it another color, I could see how that message would ring loud and clear. But I just didn’t see it in my first watchthrough.

My initial impression of the film was that what makes us human, makes us unique. Those human qualities that Kimi and her sister Adelphine work so hard to destroy were the most cherished aspects of their humanity (aspects like love, mercy, and family). In my mind, the film sheds light on how dark, grim, and cold the reality of AI is. In other words, it shows how AI will always be AI, not matter how advanced its biological mimicry.

Perhaps, the director was trying to offer a social perspective rather than a philosophical one, but such a message will always be lost in the context of sci-fi films like this. The topic of AI almost always leads to discussions of humanity and how we define existence. They always will. To get a better understanding of the director’s perspective, read the “Filmmaker’s Statement” under the description of the film. Overall it was worth the time, if coupled with the Audio Description. On its own, the film can be somewhat murky. Once the film is understood, however, it certainly offers some food for thought.

Rating: 6/10 (13:03 min)

If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through these ones as well for thoughts about films that might interest you, brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:

The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.

Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.

Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch

Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.

Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it

Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.

Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri 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.

How To Be Human: A Mind Matters Short Film Review