The Creator film poster

'It's not real, it's just programming'

Gareth Bilton, MSc Psychology (Conversion) student, reviews 'The Creator' (Director: Gareth Edwards).

27 November 2023

Set in a futuristic world where a war rages between the U.S military and artificial intelligence (AI), The Creator is the latest film from sci-fi director Gareth Edwards of Monsters (2010), Godzilla (2014), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) acclaim.

Early on we are presented with a world where robots had seemingly risen and caused the war by detonating a nuclear warhead which caused widespread destruction to humans. This immediately resonated with present-day concerns regarding the advancement of AI technology. Indeed, 'the singularity' is a hypothesis conceptualising this fear of technology surpassing human intelligence, and ultimately, becoming uncontrollable, with dire consequences for humanity. From the outset of the film, AI 'simulants' were strongly positioned as the enemy and a threat to humanity.  

John David Washington stars as Joshua, our main protagonist and an undercover agent who is a key figure in the war against AI and the humans creating and harbouring them. We journey with Joshua on his main mission; to identify and destroy 'Alpha-O', an AI-created weapon of great threat to humanity.

Amidst the visually stunning backdrop of a war-torn future, it is on this mission that a deeper, more emotional story emerges. Here, earlier scenes influencing the viewers feelings around the perceived enemy status of AI are provocatively challenged. Often depicted with human form and voices, the highly anthropomorphised simulants begin to warm the hearts of Joshua, and of the viewer [Editor's note: 'Tell me where she is and I'll leave you alone forever', and Alpha-O's face in reaction, is my cinematic moment of the year]. A sense of emotional connection and empathy begins to build with the AI’s, and the truth behind the nuclear attack which acted as a catalyst to the war is revealed. However, this AI-induced bond is challenged as we are reminded in one stand-out line 'it’s not real (AI), it’s just programming'.  

Despite this, we see humans risking their lives to provide refuge to the simulants and in one brutal scene, the military try to force the local humans to show them the entrance to the laboratory where Alpha-O is located. Seeing this depiction of humans behaving in such destructive ways to 'save' humanity, whilst displaying such an absence of it, was a powerful moment. Although the simulants may not be biologically 'real', if the concept of humanity is showing compassion and kindness to others, then they strongly align with this.

In fact, I found myself not caring if the simulants were 'real' (whatever this actually means) as contrasted with some of the malevolent human behaviours are the most benevolent – often portrayed by the simulants. Indeed, if these advanced AI are created by humans and in the image of humans, underneath it all, aren’t we the same? I was also led to question if the real threat to humanity was the fact that the simulants may indeed display more humanity than humans within the peaceful AI cultures and communities we are presented with here.

In summary, The Creator is a visually stunning, heart-warming, emotionally gripping sci-fi epic. Given little prior knowledge and no expectations, such great impact came completely out of the blue, and blew me away it did! The provocative and timely theme of the advancement of AI left me glued to my seat and sharing thoughts with my fellow viewers long after credits the rolled.

I also noticed that when purchasing our cinema snacks at the supermarket self-checkout, I thanked the anthropomorphic voice as I would a human. This is suggestive of the potential development of relationships that run deeper than that of a human and just a computer with clever programming…