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A Love Surpasses Life and Death: Taiwan’s First Portrayal of a Bionic Robot in “Next, AI”

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A Love Surpasses Life and Death: Taiwan’s First Portrayal of a Bionic Robot in “Next, AI”

Information communication technology will continue to play a major role in the following several decades, and Taiwan already commands a dominant position with expertise in semiconductors, big data, 5G, AI, quantum computing and other vital technologies, all of which are being heavily promoted by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). However, because of the complex nature of these concepts, MOST has begun investing in science translation to help the general public better understand their implications and uses, most effectively through science films.

With this in mind, MOST has helped fund a film project jointly created by NARLabs and Dong Tai Communication, "Next, AI ". Mixing both drama and reality, the film shows the historic progress of Taiwan's AI through the lens of a love story. This rarely-seen combination between the science and visual arts domains produced a unique work of art, which has been unveiled for the first time on May 16.

As the Internet has revolutionized humans' daily lives for the past 20 years, artificial intelligence continues at the forefront alongside other fields such as cloud computing, big data and IoT, with the industry's leading companies vying for supremacy in this new frontier.

It should be worth asking ourselves, within the next 10 years, how will our lives be changed forever by AI?

How will humans find their place in a world where labor is continually being replaced by AI? What will define us if AI robots develop emotions and can understand anger, joy, affection and sadness? Are we heading towards a positive direction as AI continues to steer our future? How can we be more careful with our research, in order to avoid this technology from getting out of hand? Lastly, if "they" begin to know love - a feeling that humankind has sought throughout its entire existence - will they be able to live and thrive harmoniously alongside us?

A three-part series totaling 150 minutes, "Next, AI" follows a love story and 18 distinct research trends in AI. The story begins in 1999, as an unfortunate car accident ends the life of young Isaac, Ava's boyfriend and like-minded lover of everything AI-related. The plot fast-forwards to the point when Ava has now become a researcher in the field, and after working day and night, she finally brings back her lost love through the creation of a robot copy of Isaac. Even equipping it with his voice, the robot is able to recognize facial expressions, sounds and emotions, learn knowledge of our world, help with medical diagnoses, and even compose its own musical pieces. If it comes to this, will AI become "human"? Which direction should AI research take?

This love story progresses by tying together seemingly disparate studies in AI to form a cohesive plot line. The protagonist's behavior, experiences, abilities, and even her mental state, all respond to the changes brought on by AI development, and are also a practical portrayal of Taiwanese experts' current dilemmas and predictions of the future.

The film was produced by Dong Tai Communication, three-time winner of the Golden Bell awards - one for Best Science Series, two for Natural Science Documentary Series. In order to make AI more familiar to viewers, producer Yuan Yuan asked for two directors to lead the filming of the series. For the casting, film and advertising heavyweight, Shao-Yu Hsia, was asked to direct, and picking Vera Yen, famous for her role as Wei in "Back to the Good Times", to play as Ava. For the male role who plays both as Ava's boyfriend and the AI robot, 6-foot tall Eelin model, Jason Lee, was selected. Lee took his role very seriously who according to Vera Yen, was difficult to look at in the eyes during a scene because the cold look in his eyes would also never blink, his muscles were stiff as ice, and not a hint of emotion was projected, thereby truly bringing his robot character to "life".

When describing how it felt to act as a robot character who isn't capable of breathing normally, Jason Lee explained he would sometimes lose his breath, and during particularly long scenes, his eyes would become dry, blurring his vision. He added that to act without blinking, breathing normally or swallowing, both eye drops and mineral water had to be used after the director would shout "Cut!". Otherwise, it would be difficult to continue playing the part.

Vera Yen remarked, "For me, women scientists are a refreshingly different concept. So, it was pleasing to see a female protagonist who possesses a drive to ask questions, to hypothesize, to carry out experiments and then try them again. This role pROVides a touching thought for viewers to ponder as they watch. It's a story about not allowing loss, memories, or a brighter past to drag you down, and turning all that into a force to support oneself and to live in the moment. I see her more as an artist than a scientist, someone who took that memory she had with the male character, and through a creatively artistic process, she invested in her feelings and in her life, producing a scientific creation that moved people. The robot may be cold, but the hands that created it contain a story that is beyond heart-warming. To me, there are many layers of feeling portrayed in this film, as I felt the protagonist's hardship and my own mix into one. I'd like to thank the director and the entire cast for their dedication, and Jason for being so adorable and acting with such pure emotion. You made me believe I belong in the story told by "Next, AI".

Given this is a science film, AI scientists were naturally included in the cast as well, with appearances of well-respected experts from Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University, Taipei Medical University, National Chung Cheng University and others in the AI industry. The director, Chang Fan-Jun, is no stranger to science documentaries, and includes snippets of his calm conversations with these scientists in order to unravel the mysteries behind certain scientific principles presented in the film. To stitch the fictional story and the documentary together, the screenwriter had to weave the space between virtual fantasy and live bullets, adding animations and music in the final editing stages to complete the entire masterpiece.

Unlike films in general, science films can't afford to have any mistakes, so NARLabs made sure each and every scientific principal was portrayed correctly, otherwise the producers would be asked to go back and revise the film, which was done eight times in total. Luckily, given that both parties had previously worked together on the film "Trailblazers: Stories from the Laboratory", producers were already familiar with NARLabs' strict attitude toward scientific accuracy, this experience in collaboration is what helped them win their first Golden Bell award back in 2017.

As a much-acclaimed work of art in the science film genre, "Next, AI" master's the best in the science and broadcasting fields, and its well-shot cinematography is definitely worth a watch.