SXSW Film Review: More Human Than Human

Exploring the human condition by studying artificial intelligence

“If artificial intelligence can be superior to us, what does that mean for our identity?” An AI researcher poses that question in the documentary More Human Than Human, putting into words a theme that runs as an undercurrent throughout the movie.

The film, co-directed by Femke Wolting and Tommy Pallotta – a longtime Richard Linklater collaborator – undertakes this inquiry at a time when the debate over artificial intelligence is entering the mainstream. There are over 40 panels and sessions relating to AI at SXSW 2018, so Pallotta and Wolting’s film lands at an opportune time. The duo avoids the apocalyptic or utopian visions promised by critics and proponents of AI research, instead favoring a grounded approach to examining human identity in a world full of supermachines.

Although the film does not shy away from the frightening and inspiring possibilities of an AI-filled future, it shows more interest in the human question. For instance, the filmmakers deploy a novel device to gauge the ability of AI in a critical aspect of human identity: artistic expression. They partner with a robotics company to develop an AI-driven system capable of creating a documentary film. The system is taught how to operate a camera, recognize facial and speech patterns and to interview subjects. The film culminates in a final test of the system, in which Pallotta is interviewed – fully autonomously – by the Cambot. The project yields surprising results and serves as the backbone to the film’s overarching exploration of AI, as well as an illustration of what makes humans unique.

More Human Than Human can’t predict what will happen to civilization when AI inevitably surpasses human intelligence, but what it can do – and what it does with profound effectiveness – is reassure audiences that we should not take our humanity for granted.


More Human Than Human

Visions, World Premiere
Monday, March 12, 4pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 15, 6pm, Alamo South Lamar

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
A glimmer of hope amid Austin development in Nothing Stays the Same: The Story of the Saxon Pub

Doug Freeman, March 8, 2019

Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
We know the winners, now who'll be running the show?

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 14, 2019

More by Austin Sanders
Council Wants More Housing Near Project Connect Stations
Council Wants More Housing Near Project Connect Stations
Bring on the trains

April 19, 2024

New Lot Size Would Allow Middle-Class Homeowners to Sell Their Backyards
New Lot Size Would Allow Middle-Class Homeowners to Sell Their Backyards
Smaller lots, smaller homes, cheaper prices

April 19, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW Film, SXSW Film 2018, Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle