By Robert Koehler
In the span of eight months, nonfiction filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has produced two features on what are, on paper, vital topics: Our New President, which premiered at Sundance, addresses his native Russia’s gullible openness to the Putin propaganda machine’s relentless promotion of Donald Trump before and after his US election; now, with The Truth About Killer Robots, Pozdorovkin takes on a perceived growing threat from the roboticization of society. The first work is a mess of slapdash edits and hurriedly assembled segments, as if he rushed it to Sundance in a stimulant-fuelled all-night bender, and worse, it repeatedly states the obvious (Russians love Trump) and offers no fresh insights into Putin’s media machine, which we already know has a whole nation under its thumb. The second matches the first for rate and repetition of obvious statements and, though more calmly assembled than Our New President, leaves the viewer with nothing to hang onto except a vague sense that we’re all screwed.
The movie touches on all the predictable data points of the problems with robot technology (driverless cars crashing, factory robots killing car assembly workers, creepy humanoid robots, young male techies who spend more time with their robot creations than other people, the dehumanization of public space, ethicists issuing dire warnings, etc.) while ignoring the most obvious issue of all: the profit motive based on heightened efficiencies, otherwise known as capitalism, is the grease for this particular monster. Like a ghoulish pop anthropologist roaming the planet looking for the most garish things he can find, Pozdorovkin never comes off as a guy who takes his subjects very seriously, whistling past humanity’s graveyard with a sinister tone of glee.
Having taken on such an important topic, his fairly juvenile attitude renders the conclusion that he would’ve done us all a big favour and not made his movies at all, and just tweet something about urging everyone to watch as much Harun Farocki as they can. The only genuine moments that matter here are when the “rules” of robotic ethics created by Isaac Asimov, first in I, Robot, are discussed (with interesting black-and-white interview clips of the author), particularly related to the 2016 killing of a sniper suspect in Dallas by a bomb-squad robot. Asimov’s “first rule” is that humans should never allow robots to kill. Now that it’s violated…what? Don’t ask Pozdorovkin.