Like any industry, film has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Many actors have thought of creative ways to keep working during the pandemic, such as participating in live-streamed theatre performances from home. Such isolation from others is continuing in an unlikely form, with the recent announcement that the cast of upcoming science fiction blockbuster ‘b’ will not feature an entirely human cast, as its lead will be an AI robot named Erica.
In an age where digital influencers and models are nabbing big campaigns and have huge social media followings, it was only a matter of time before non-human actors broke into the film industry. ‘b’ will reportedly have a $70 million budget and will tell the story of a scientist who creates an AI robot (Erica), but decides to help her escape after a glitch occurs in his programme designed to “perfect human DNA.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, this will be the first film to star an artificially intelligent actor, sparking much speculation as the film will rely heavily on Erica’s performance.
Erica was created by Japanese scientists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa from Kyoto University in 2015. Erica’s description on the website Robots: Your Guide to the World of Robotics reads: “when Erica is listening it blinks and moves its eyes and head, just like a person.”
“Erica is an advanced android designed as a research platform to study human-robot interaction. It understands natural language, has a synthesized human-like voice, and can display a variety of facial expressions”
Reportedly, Erica was taught to act through one-to-one sessions, including “talking through her feelings and coaching character development and body language” (THR). Such sessions eerily evoke the conversations between Bernard and Dolores from HBO’s Westworld, with creator and machine interacting and learning from each other.
‘b’ also shares parallels with Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, in which AI robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) manipulates a programmer to help her escape from her oppressive creator. It will be interesting to see how the film diverges from Ex Machina, particularly in its portrayal of artificial intelligence as it presents an actual robot rather than a human actor made to look like one. Will such realism add a layer of authenticity and believability, or will its uncanny nature diminish empathy from the audience and make it harder to connect with Erica?
The bulk of the filming will not start until 2021 as the human lead is yet to be cast. Not everyone will warm to the idea, with long standing anxieties existing about artificial intelligence taking over from humans. Regardless of whether the news is received as disturbing or ground-breaking, ‘b’ will undoubtedly make an intriguing watch and perhaps it will only be a matter of time before other films follow suit.
Words by Lucy Ingram