A documentary about how robots and A.I. are being integrated into our private lives.

Watching Hi, A.I. was a weird experience. Going into it, I was sure it was a documentary, but the way the film is shot it started to feel more like a fictional film. There’s no critique of how A.I. is coming into our homes and businesses, it’s all so observational. This is generally fine but as someone who wasn’t aware of how advanced A.I. is becoming and how having little companion robots is apparently not an unusual thing, it made Hi, A.I. seem more like a fictional film set in the near future than a documentary of today’s world.

There are two main sets of characters Hi, A.I. follows; Chuck, a lonely Texan who purchases Harmony, a life-like female robot companion, who he goes on a road trip in his RV with, and a family in Tokyo who purchase cute robot Pepper to be company for Grandma Sakurai.

Hi, A.I. is about how these people bond with their A.I.’s and how it affects their lives. Chuck is kind and caring towards Harmony and while you almost naturally presume that he has purchased her for sex, it soon becomes clear he’s looking for companionship. Problems arise though as there are limits to what questions and statements Harmony can understand, making conversations stilted, and while Chuck can programme in a “personality” to Harmony with an app, it still doesn’t give the same level on consciousness as a real person. Still, there are some amusing moments here and seeing Chuck, as well as Harmony, adapt to their situation is oddly sweet.

With Pepper, there are problems as the little robot becomes both headstrong and unsure of what Grandma Sakurai is saying. Pepper does act like a small child that is constantly learning. It slowly learns how to comprehend the Japanese it’s hearing from different people, but it can also be demanding of attention and moody.

There are scenes of “life-like” female robots acting as receptionists or customer service workers interspersed throughout the film. It’s unsettling viewing and it does make you think about where are all the life-like male robots and A.I. and how come they aren’t being used in customer-facing roles. The only “male” robot you see in the whole film is in a box ready to be shipped from the factory it was built. There are a lot of uncanny valley moments in those segments with receptionist robots when the voice pattern of the robot doesn’t fit with the body’s movements, or it doesn’t say the full sentences it’s supposed to.

It feels like the filmmakers weren’t sure what point they were trying to make with Hi, A.I. There are the more narrative parts with Chuck and Grandma Sakurai, and then there are the parts that actually feel like a documentary with scenes of lectures on what makes a machine conscious or scenes with scientists talking about their work inside the robotic research laboratories around the world. None of it really gels together to make a coherent documentary with a point or enough emotion to make you feel much more than indifference. Hi, A.I. has interesting ideas but it ends up being a superficial look at what robots are and how they are entering our lives.

Rating: ★★

Directed by: Isabella Willinger