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He wrote this film before AI was a hot topic. Now it's all the rage.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Our next story is about a very timely new Hollywood movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CREATOR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) The next marvelous advancement in robotics is artificial intelligence.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mandalit del Barco spoke to the writer director of "The Creator," a science fiction drama about AI.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The story is set on Earth in the year 2070. Humans in the West are at war, trying to wipe out robots in the East.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY WHIRRING)

DEL BARCO: You can hear and see whirring machinery at the base of the robots' skulls. Otherwise, they look, move and cry like humans. Some are even more compassionate than us. And the one everyone is after has superpowers. She can grow. And we meet her as an adorable 6-year-old.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CREATOR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What do you want, sweetie?

MADELEINE YUNA VOYLES: (As Alphie) The robots to be free.

DEL BARCO: British filmmaker Gareth Edwards says he started writing his screenplay in 2018, before AI was in the zeitgeist.

GARETH EDWARDS: I really was using robots and AI as a metaphor for people who are different, you know, the other and the idea of, like, how we always reject people who are different and fear them, and vice versa, they do the same to us. And when I first sort of pitched this to the studio, the main note I always got back was, but why would we ban AI? Like, it's such a positive thing, you know. And it's sort of hilarious to be now where we are.

DEL BARCO: Edwards sees advantages and disadvantages to AI. He is, after all, a visual effects whizz who wrote the 2010 sci-fi horror film "Monsters." He also directed a Godzilla remake and the "Star Wars" film "Rogue One." For "The Creator," which he shot on locations in Southeast Asia, Edwards says he decided not to tell his extras if they were supposed to be robots or not.

EDWARDS: I really wanted everybody who was a robot or an AI to just act like they thought they were as normal and human as everybody else in the movie.

DEL BARCO: In post-production, some of them were morphed into robots, and in many scenes, they get slaughtered by humans. As part of the AI war, the protagonist, played by John David Washington, is ordered to kill the military target - that 6-year-old girl robot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CREATOR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Did you locate the weapon?

JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON: (As Joshua) Yeah. It's just a kid.

DEL BARCO: She's played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CREATOR")

VOYLES: (As Alphie) Are you going to heaven?

WASHINGTON: (As Joshua) No. You've got to be a good person to go to heaven.

VOYLES: (As Alphie) So we're the same. We can't go to heaven because you're not good, and I'm not a person.

DEL BARCO: Edwards says, in "The Creator," he wanted to present philosophical and ethical dilemmas.

EDWARDS: If we create AI, and it starts having genuine autonomy and says things we don't like, are we allowed to turn it off, you know? And what if it doesn't want to be turned off?

DEL BARCO: Edwards says he was inspired by real-life social experiments on empathy. For example, robot ethicist Kate Darling used cute interactive baby dinosaurs, as she described in a TED Talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

KATE DARLING: We had each group name their robot and play with it. We had them do a little fashion show with the robots. And then after about 45 minutes to an hour, we unveiled a hammer and a hatchet and a knife. And we told them to torture and kill the robots.

DEL BARCO: She said they just couldn't bear to.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

DARLING: We finally had to threaten to destroy all of the robots unless someone took a hatchet to one of them. And this poor guy volunteered. And we all stood in a circle around him, and he brought the hatchet down on the robot's neck. And people kind of winced and looked away. And then there was this half-joking, half-serious moment of silence in the room for the fallen robot.

DEL BARCO: With AI's feelings in mind, Edwards says he finds himself saying please and thank you whenever he uses devices like Siri and Alexa and even ChatGPT.

EDWARDS: I'm very careful to be very polite because, you know, come that robopocalypse, I want them to remember that, you know, I'm not one of the bad guys. It's kind of the reason I made this film is that I'll get spared when they finally take over. They'll be like, he's OK. He understands us, you know?

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANS ZIMMER'S "TRUE LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.