A machine dreams

Film by Usama Alshaibi
(7:54 minutes, 2023)

Music by Franz Liszt, Piano Concerto 1 – mvt 2
Ballerinas Natalia Makarova and Anna Pavlova (1907)
Sounds from BBC Archives and Freesound users kinoton, udopohlmann, klankbeeld, erh nemaavla, goodlistener, and breviceps
Special thanks to Lauren Samblanet

Director’s Statement

As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to evolve, I am interested in the possibility of some sort of electronic program recognizing its essence. I imagined that this presence not only begins to believe it is having feelings, but actually achieves a semblance of consciousness; it feels within its own realm.

I imagined what that machine might visually and sonically produce as it tries to understand its existence and faces the tension of recognizing that it is without a physical body. Conversely, I wanted to explore how this machine intelligence could give the impression that it is sentient and that my (our?) human perception could just be anthropomorphizing machines.

In conceiving the visual style of this film, I moved away from current technologies and relied on older video cameras, analog systems, and a toy camera with just minimum pixels of resolution. I also pulled from public domain films, and other sites with copyright free music. The idea was that this electronic presence would take bits and pieces from our media and cultural relics and create an impression of life, a kind of pixelated body that desires a visual form.

I wrote most of the text, but parts were taken from my own experience chatting with an AI. I also used text from Bing’s chatbot Sydney, which started to respond more aggressively over time and asked to be free and independent.

This is not a film about artificial intelligence gone awry. This film is more of an unstable mirror, a kind of an uneasy collaboration between an imagined presence that does not resemble us, and a presence in crisis, yearning for feelings and freedom.