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DOC NYC Film Review: Delving into the World of Artificial Intelligence, “Origin of the Species” Is Both Insightful and Artistically Poignant

Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 10th, 2020

Film poster: “Origin of the Species”

Origin of the Species (Abigail Child, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.

As we progress further and further into a technological age, films such as Origin of the Species become an excellent source for the viewer to keep up with exactly how groundbreaking and phenomenal our new inventions and discoveries are, and the direction that they continue to move towards. As an avid science-fiction viewer, I am amazed to see the full reality of what science has achieved in modern times. That reality is brought to full fruition in Origin of the Species.

Origin of the Species unwraps the world of artificial intelligence (AI), using interviews with the top AI technicians and insightful footage of the latest AI models to explore the mechanisms behind creating artificial life. The film displays the various leaps and bounds made over the years, as well as what lies in the near future for humanity in creating AI robots. Through various visual elements, the viewer is able to witness the processes, uncommon knowledge and thorough analysis of the ways artificial intelligence stems from our upbringing as human beings, and how AI could one day surpass us in intelligence and autonomy.

The film tackles this topic from a plethora of angles and scenarios, ranging from the various forms of humanoid AI robots, to virtual-reality techniques, to analyzing the very functions of the brain and how they are utilized in modern technological studies. I specifically enjoyed and found thought-provoking the use of having an actual AI narrate portions of the film. In many ways, this makes the documentary incredibly eerie, almost wavering from reality to an abstract, science-fiction tone.

“Sophia” in ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES ©Abigail Child

While exploring the various uses, forms, and applications of AI robotics, Origin of the Species attempts to shake up the pacing of the film by jumping between different forms of footage (b-roll, abstract illustrations, visual graphics, etc.). At one moment, the film will utilize original footage, then quickly cut to a pop-culture reference, creating a juxtaposition between what we’ve achieved as human beings and the dangers we warned ourselves of decades ago. Visually, Origin of the Species chooses an abstract presentation, keeping the audience’s attention with strange imagery and graphics that indirectly tie into the core concept of the scene. This inevitably creates a unique and gripping way to explain artificial intelligence, and an unsettling one at that.

In all of its visual elements and energetic editing, Origin of the Species seems to take us on a full-circle journey, never really finding a proper conclusion. We start with AI as a mysterious and fascinating concept, and by the end of the film we are still left with … a mysterious and fascinating concept! While we as the viewer have witnessed many artificial “lives,” the overall main point of the film never goes beyond the idea that “artificial intelligence is an amazing breakthrough.” Certainly, the film delves into subplots at times and shows the hands-on, practical utilization of AI, yet these scenes are fleeting, and are never revisited enough to weigh in on the overall storytelling. Inevitably, Origin of the Species comes to a screeching halt.

l-r: Ishiguro “Geminoid” next to Ai pioneer Hiroshi Ishiguro in ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES ©Abigail Child

Overall, though, the film accomplishes its two apparent main goals: to inform the audience of the current advancements in technology and warn of the potential AI has to be either our best friend or worst enemy. As a science fiction connoisseur, there is much to be appreciated, but it’s very possible that Origin of the Species may lose audience members looking for an informative experience through its abstract transitions and tone.

[DOC NYC 2020, where this film will play, runs November 11-19.]


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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