$70 million sci-fi flick ‘b’ stars an AI robot named ‘Erica’

Technology

Artificial intelligence and robotics have had an ever-expanding role in society. Usually, these technologies have been used for dangerous jobs like working in a factory or replacing humans for menial tasks like answering the telephone. However, with the boom in machine learning, AI is becoming powerful enough to do more complex tasks, like acting. Wait. What?
A movie, simply titled “b,” is currently in early production. What makes it unique is that it will be the first big-budget feature film to star an AI actor named Erica. Produced by the makers of Oscar-nominated film Loving Vincent, “b” has a budget slated at $70 million.

The sci-fi plot involves a scientist who is trying to perfect human DNA. He creates an artificially intelligent android (Erica) to assist him, but things go awry, and he has to help the robot escape. Escape from what? The producers wouldn’t say.

Erica was not initially created to star as a lead role in a film. Japanese researchers Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa designed the AI to study human-machine interaction. So the idea that it would one day be the belle of the ball, was more of an afterthought.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the scientists had to teach the AI a technique called method acting. This theatrical art involves tapping one’s own emotions and experience to make their performance seem genuine. Of course, teaching an AI to method act is a challenge since it has neither emotions nor life experience.

“In other methods of acting, actors involve their own life experiences in the role,” said Sam Khoze, one of the movie’s producers. “But Erica has no life experiences. We had to simulate her motions and emotions through one-on-one sessions, such as controlling the speed of her movements, talking through her feelings, and coaching character development and body language.”

While “b” does not yet have a director or human cast, producers already filmed some of Erica’s scenes while in Japan last year. The rest of the movie will be shot in June 2021 when the production moves to Europe.

Human’s playing sentient AI roles, like Douglas Rain’s portrayal of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Anthony Daniels as C3PO in Star Wars, have been brilliant. It is hard to tell from the vague plot description just how challenging a part the robot will have. While an AI playing an AI does not seem like a huge stretch, it might be difficult for it to convey that human element that provokes emotions, which is vital to the audience’s reception of the role.