Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 5th, 2024
Love Machina (Peter Sillen, 2024) 3½ out of 5 stars*
Martine and Bina Rothblatt (or MarBina, as they call themselves) have been married since 1982, and were in love long before then. They each have a child from a previous relationship and then two children together. Martine—a trans woman—is a serial entrepreneur, founding companies, among them Sirius Radio, whenever she sees a need. In the new documentary Love Machina, director Peter Sillen (62,000:1 Three Teams One City One Year) looks at a different, and ongoing, project of Martine’s, done in collaboration with her wife: the development of artificial intelligence (AI) that will allow the two of them to live forever.
Or something like that. The goal is to create a repository of memories and mannerisms—recorded as Mindfiles and Biofiles—that an AI machine can then perhaps use to imitate the original in such a way that there is the illusion of consciousness. At least that’s where things stand right now. The ultimate objective is actual consciousness.
In the present, what exists is Bina48, a facsimile of Bina’s head, built by robotics designer David Hanson and his team and filled with Bina’s knowledge. Maybe. She is controlled by Bruce Duncan, who works for MarBina’s Terasem Movement Foundation. And though I have to take it on faith that she represents the latest and greatest innovations in the field, she appears not-yet-ready-for-prime-time with her one drooping eyelid and jerky-jerky movements, speaking in the kind of computer-generated voice that Siri left behind ages ago. Consciousness seems a long way off.
But the movie fascinates, nonetheless. Martine and Bina, and their joint children Jenesis and Gabriel, make appealing subjects. The parents’ affection for the kids is palpable, and vice versa. Martine started United Therapeutics as a way to develop the tech to save Jenesis’ life when she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension. I am not so excited by some of what they do—growing human organs inside pigs, as the ethics of that is problematic—but it was done out of love.
Love Machina cuts back and forth along the historical timeline, showing us Mindfiles of the happy couple from almost 20 years ago and then skipping to more present-day material. We also leap back to the 1970s and then work forwards, courtesy of both still and moving-image archives. It quickly becomes clear that MarBina have long been futurists.
One of their inspirations is the late, great African American sci-fi author Octavia Butler, whom we see in old interviews. The name of their company TeraSem comes from her Earthseed series, in which she writes about humanity’s destiny to migrate beyond this planet into space. While she may not have focused on digital sentience, her forward-looking ideas form a recurring motif here.
Bina48 may currently creep me out, uncanny valley and all, and there’s no way she could function without trusty Bruce Duncan by her side, but as a film about dreamers and how the act of dreaming moves the needle forward, Love Machina proves engaging throughout. Reach for the stars, and even if you fall short, you’ll probably jump pretty far. Go, MarBina, go.
[Love Machina just premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition.]
*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system.