*Chappie*, or Emile

This Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) movie has received only lukewarm reviews, but while highly imperfect it is more interesting than most critics seem to realize.  The initial premise is that in a few years’ time South Africa resorts to AI-driven, robot policemen.  I see the film as revolving around three key questions:

1. What will a robot be like, if he grows up under rather brutal conditions?  This is first and foremost a movie about education, and it could have been written by John Gray.  Don’t assume that people (robots) have an irrevocable tendency to support liberal values, at least not when the chips are down and they have been beaten up.  The gang motive is both popular and enduring.

2. Can a society dependent on robots for law enforcement become/remain a liberal society?  Or will the “arms race” between the law and the criminals result in brutality and a loss of liberty?

3. How robust is a robot society to the eventual possibility of human error and depravity?

Along the way there are references to Asimov, “Silent Running,” Blade Runner, Verhoeven of course, and other android sources.  I can’t endorse every angle of the ending, or every character decision, but still I didn’t consider leaving this one.


Talk about damning with faint praise.

It's not faint praise for Cowen, he walks out of like 50% of movies.

so more 'fiasco' than 'failure', I take it. I'm just amazed Die Antwoord managed to leverage their long-con performance art into major roles in a blockbuster.

It's not really that they leveraged anything, it's just that Blomkamp has long been an ardent fan of theirs. He wanted one of them for the lead role in Elysium too, if I recall, but it didn't work out for whatever reason. Then he wanted Eminem for the role, who also turned it down, and finally he settled on Matt Damon.

"Long-Con Performance Art"

LCPA is probably my favorite genre of music, after folk.

"What will a robot be like, if he grows up under rather brutal conditions?" -- if you adhere to the Judith Rich Harris school of "upbringing has next to no effect on how a person turns out" (as I do), then the robot in question would basically turn out the same, regardless of his upbringing.

And "has received only lukewarm reviews"? It currently has a 40 on Metacritic, which is quite low (even "Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of" got a 42...)


meets AI

The worst parts of each given how it turned out.

I thought the Robocop remake had an interesting premise, where the people accepted drone/robot warfare overseas but not at home for the police force.

But instead of doing the obvious -- putting unarmed drones and robots into partnership with normal cops -- they tried to put a human into a drone.

What strange questions to ask. They seem not answerable without many assumptions about the robot. For instance;

1. What will a robot be like, if he grows up under rather brutal conditions? - Won't that depend on its software? If the robot is programmed to be nice regardless, I guess it will be nice. If it has some kind of moral reasoning program (like we have) maybe it will be brutalized.
2. Can a society dependent on robots for law enforcement become/remain a liberal society? - Yes. Again though it depends on the robot's program. Presumably you could program your robot to provide exactly the same kind of policing as humans.
3. How robust is a robot society to the eventual possibility of human error and depravity? - See answers 1&2.

Maybe the movie makes this all a lot clearer.

#2 If the robot is programmed to provide "exactly the same kind of policing as humans" does that remain a liberal society?

"#2 If the robot is programmed to provide “exactly the same kind of policing as humans” does that remain a liberal society? "

For the same number of humans? And having the same capabilities? Then it should be a wash. If there are more robots or they have more capabilities, then naturally you are going to lean more towards a police state.

That being said, there are several obvious "real life" options that would mitigate these factors. The most obvious, is that you would seldom or never give a robot lethal weapons. A robot would be programmed and equipped to subdue. If a bad guy has a machine gun, you sent in a bullet proof robot to subdue him. If a bad guy has a rocket launcher. you send in robots until he's out of ammo, then the next one in subdues him.

There's almost never a need for robot cop to kill a human (or a dog for that matter). Robots are tough and expendable.

Of course you can still end up with the ultimate nanny state where robots are always humane, but freedom is highly curtailed. Isaac Asimov covered that idea fairly well 50 years ago.

I was disgusted throughout the film with the abysmal stupidity of its characters. The characters that seemed least unbelievable were actually the criminals, because I've been lucky enough to avoid prolonged contact with such elements in real life, and so couldn't process their actions as well.

Given such appallingly dumb characters from the same person who gave us District 9, I started reaching for Staussian readings before the second act. Most that I came up with involved how South Africa was beyond saving by liberal means.

As for the AI itself, my internal models of Yudkowsky and Hanson only took particular notice from the ending, when an actual change to the setting is made with digitizing human brains.

I also was more bothered by the criminal characters....adults with the mentality of children wielding colorful automatic weapons.

I learned that South African defense contractors have zero security protocols of any kind.

You want to walk out the door with a chip that can shut down the city's police department? Not a problem. If we need it back we might call you.

You want to take a millions of dollars of equipment for a personal experiment? Go right ahead!

Need hand grenades? Take a barrel full!

Brian - I agree with that Straussian reading. South Africa is the most tragic country I've ever lived in. The level and casualness of brutal violence is unlike anything I've witnessed anywhere else in the world. The odd thing is that you go across the border to Gaborone, Botswana, and you find a very nice country...one I wouldn't mind retiring in.

From a purely technical perspective, haven't these themes been done to death by Japanese animation?

But cartoons are for children! *sarcasm*

Main problem would be how to tell the robots to selectively enforce the laws to target certain groups and classes o people without it being explicit enough in the programming to get you busted.

They could use "machine learning." Program the machine to identify patterns and act in accordance with those patterns on it's own.

With police body cameras, millions of hours of human policing can be viewed and analyzed by the robot. If it's programed well, the robot should be able to identify that young men are more likely to commit crimes than old women.

But what to do when the Robot notices all the old women routinely violate small traffic laws and starts fining them hundreds of dollars and throwing them in jail?

Do they? Strange then, that they're less likely to get in accidents.* And you don't get thrown in jail for violating small traffic laws.

* https://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1114.pdf

You must not have been following our friends in Missouri.

How else are fines supposed to be enforced?

Speaking of influence, Chappie's design is a diet version of Masamune Shirow's Briareos from the Appleseed series.

Word. I was actually disappointed there wasn't more of a direct nod, given how likely an Appleseed adaptation to the screen would be if the GitS movie goes well. I grit my teeth even now at the thought of someone sitting down to an Appleseed trailer saying "Hey, they ripped off Chappie!"

"District 9 director Neill Blomkamp has cited Appleseed's Briareos as an influence on the design of the robot in his upcoming film, Chappie."


"The gang motive is both popular and enduring."

This remains true in Los Angeles despite an extremely low robot population.

That's odd - maybe we were watching different movies - I thought the "initial premise" was something to do with segregation and prejudice. The robot cops were a sufficiently minor note, imo, that I completely disregarded them as being significant to the plot. To me they just seemed to be a marker to help identify the setting as an alternate world - i.e. no more than stage setting.

As for answering the questions, I would have to repeat the thought that a robot "AI" personality would be primarily dependent on software, no?

I was an SF fan for many years in my youth, although I eventually lost interest, and rarely go to it today. I also found this movie pretty abysmal on many levels - yet it somehow held my interest until the end. So, the PLOT had interest, even if the acting, effects, writing, etc were execrable.

Back to the robocops being a minor point, or not, I'll have to think about that - but I don't think I'm interested enough to rewatch it. Uh-uh.

Ooops. Misdirection! Whilst the blog title says "Chappie" - the text starts with
"This Neill Blomkamp (“District 9″) movie . . ." which I took to mean that Cowen was talking about the movie "District 9". So, we WERE watching different films. My bad.

I can't delete my previous response, but would if I could, as it is not germaine. I haven't seen Chappie, know nothing about it. Had never heard of it - until today.

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