iHuman – Review

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

2019/Norway/99mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The face of war has changed. And while the atrocities of it resonate on the battlefields, towns and homes of many – war has taken a digital stance, warping public perception and influencing the states of economy, unions and elections. Brexit, Trump, and many of those delightful things which have rocked the foundations of democracy and sensibility have been coaxed from the shadows by networks and organisations utilising the information we freely hand-out. Privacy is dead, no matter how hard we try to fight it, and as iHuman demonstrates – it was one of the most explicitly civilised traits we shared.

Tonje Hessen Schei’s film places education at the forefront of its narrative, but out of necessity rather than a severe warning. Impressively iHuman refrains from sullying itself in turmoil or gloom, an easy target for us pessimists of the world. A particularly easy target given the state of things and the global impact AI is having. Focus is less diverted to a particular case, but rather a broad-stroke of subject materials and case-studies which fall within the topics Schei chooses to include in the documentary.

Choice interviews are conducted, and the film’s authenticity and intellect are complimentary. A remarkably ‘grey’ film, iHuman does lean on the dread button for narrative impact. We transition from the origins of artificial intelligence, the golden era of discovery and then, the gradual stripping down of the morality surrounding innovation. Various experts, journalists and engineers bring their validity to the table as iHuman’s discussion shifts from the value and prosperity to that of aggression, intimidation and manipulation.

The pessimistic will at first think they know it all. False news, algorithms, and tailored advertising – we’ve all seen the articles. Schei’s documentary strips away the curtain to reveal just how blood-draining the extent of abusing artificial intelligence and our digital footprint has become. iHuman does take a superficial look at the personal dimensions, though it would be inherently difficult to delve too deep into the individual impacts. The stories instead involve case studies, events of groups such as the now infamous Cambridge Analytica and the absent-minded impact they have since had. 

Structurally, iHuman flows like a typical documentary, building in waves for maximum impact, but thankfully maintains steady pacing to ensure the digestion of big facts and horrors. It plays to the dramatic, but without fictionizing or suspending belief – utilising appropriate extracts. Torkel Gjørv Aleksander Kvam’s editing is crisp and emboldens the films art direction, using the array of diverse, and often striking cinematography to its best use. Linked with the graphic design, reinforcing the quasi-science fiction aesthetic, the film’s use of imagery can come across as a tad dramatic, but is still overall fitting.

iHuman makes its mark too early, hammering in the dread and temptation and hope for how we, together, can ensure the correct use of the most significant scientific advancements for decades. The film then ambles, having made it’s pinnacle remarks and potential revelation on companies involvements with arms manufactures. Instead, it attempts to wind down, or at least this is Olav Øyehaug’s intention with the film’s score. In cooling down iHuman seems to be aiming to leave the audience with fewer nightmares, but given the film’s subject matter, it’s a little too late for this tactic.

If you thought for one second you had a grasp on the endless chasm which is artificial intelligence or data mining, then think again. iHuman is as eye-opening as it is accessible, the technophiles and phobics can come together here, each treated equally as Schei’s film guides everyone to (at the very least) endeavour to pursue the one thing this world is sorely lacking right now; research and rational thought.

iHuman is released in UK cinemas from December 10th

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