I, Robot

January 1, 2000

Wikipedia | I, Robot is a 2004 science fiction-action film directed by Alex Proyas. The screenplay was written by Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman and Hillary Seitz and is very loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s short-story collection of the same name. Will Smith stars in the lead role of the film as Detective Del Spooner, who hates robots and dislikes their integration into daily human life. The supporting cast includes Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk, and Shia LaBeouf.

The story takes place in 2035 Chicago, in a world in which robots are commonly seen and used as servants. Det. Spooner (Smith) is a Chicago police detective who dislikes the rapid advancement of technology, including robots. This is due to a robot saving Spooner from an automobile accident during which a girl in another car drowned; the robot saved him instead of the girl because it had computed that he had the best probability of surviving. Left with survivor’s guilt and a mechanical arm from the accident, Spooner is sent to investigate the apparent death of Dr. Alfred Lanning, a robotics scientist and founder of U.S. Robotics (USR), who fell out of his window. Spooner had been specifically requested by Lanning via means of a hologram.

copyright © 20th Century Fox, 2004

Spooner suspects that Lanning was murdered and, with the reluctant help of USR robopsychologist Susan Calvin, seeks answers to the mystery. Unlike older models, USR’s new NS-5 robots are controlled from the company’s supercomputer VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence); Spooner believes that an independent, experimental, and more human-like NS-5 unit, Sonny, killed Lanning. If true, the robot broke the Three Laws of Robotics, and may presage other dangerous robots, which would be a disaster for USR’s business. Spooner informs the head of USR, Lawrence Robertson; he orders Calvin to deactivate Sonny. During Spooner’s investigation, however, several attempts on his life are made by USR robots and equipment.

Spooner learns that Lanning gave Sonny the ability to keep secrets, in the form of dreams. He goes to the place that Sonny described in a dream (the now dried-up Lake Michigan, used as a storage area for defunct USR robots) and discovers that NS-5s are destroying the older robots, which are independent of central control and thus cannot be subverted. NS-5s around Chicago and the nation begin imprisoning humans in their households and enforcing a curfew on those still outside. Calvin is also being held in her own house. Spooner rescues Calvin from her own robot and heads back to the USR building. On the way, they discover humans and robots clashing in the streets, and the police force is deemed hazardous and attacked. The military does not arrive as it also operates under a USR uplink. Humans outnumber the NS-5s and are armed (some with firearms, and others with improvised weapons), but the NS-5s are stronger and faster; the streets are full of chaos.

Spooner and Calvin sneak into the USR campus with the assistance of Sonny (Calvin had deactivated another NS-5 unit instead). Believing that Robertson is responsible for the robot uprising they enter his office, but discover that Robertson is dead. Spooner deduces that the only one left who could be responsible is VIKI, which not only controls all NS-5s but also partially controls Chicago’s infrastructure. Lanning had called Spooner, knowing that he is one of the few people who dislikes robots enough to follow through with an investigation.

Despite its Three Laws programming, as VIKI’s artificial intelligence evolved, so too did its interpretation of the laws. VIKI decided that in order to protect humanity as a whole “some humans must be sacrificed and some freedoms must be surrendered”, as “you charge us with your safekeeping, yet you wage wars and toxify your earth”. The computer is controlling the NS-5s to lead a global robotic takeover, justifying its actions by calculating that fewer humans will die due to the rebellion than the number that dies from mankind’s self-destructive nature. Lanning discovered VIKI’s plans and ordered Sonny to kill him as part of a long-range plan to defeat the computer. Sonny proves his faithfulness to humanity by helping Spooner and Calvin escape VIKI’s robot guards. They succeed in destroying the computer core with nanites which Calvin was supposed to use on Sonny; freed from VIKI’s control, the NS-5s return to normal and Chicago’s infrastructure is reactivated. The government has all NS-5′s decommissioned and stored at the Lake Michigan site, but the film’s final scene implies that Sonny may yet become a leader of robots.