Haley Joel Osment visits MIT to promote AI

Submitted by kbarr on May 30, 2001 - 1:49pm.

I was amused that Haley Joel Osment required a security detail that would rival a presidential visit. The following article appeared describing his visit.

- Stephen Schaefer

A special sneak peek of Steven Spielberg's top-secret summer film, A.I., which was held Monday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab, didn't go quite as planned.

Technical glitches at the Warner Bros.-sponsored symposium were followed by actual artificial-intelligence researchers punching holes into the plausibility of Spielberg's sci-fi film about a robot boy (Haley Joel Osment) programmed with human emotions.

The event was kicked off with an old-fashioned film clip of screenwriter-director Spielberg sending his regrets for not attending (he's now under pressure to complete Minority Report with Tom Cruise before a possible July 1 actors' strike). This was followed by what was supposed to be a 10-minute clip of the movie. In reality, the A.I. exclusive turned out to be only about five minutes long, and the opening scene lost most of Ben Kingsley's voiceover narration due to projection problems.

Wanted: a Robot Capable of Love
The little footage we did see featured William Hurt as an arrogant college professor giving a class a shocking demonstration. He assaults a woman named Mecca, first stabbing her in the hand, but she does not bleed. Then he pulls off her face to expose her metallic interior and takes out her computer chip. Yes, she's a robot.

Hurt tells the class that although Mecca may be a marvel, she is devoid of emotion. He declares that they must now build an android capable of love. This prompts a student to voice what seems to be the still-ultrasecret theme of A.I.: What kind of responsibility do humans have toward a machine that can feel, even love?

Kubrick Gave Spielberg His Blessing
A group of artificial intelligence heavyweights, most of them from MIT's AI Lab (which was founded in 1959), then gave a panel presentation, which was followed by Osment, who was accompanied by Spielberg's longtime producer, Kathleen Kennedy.

Kennedy, who left immediately after the presentation to go to George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic facilities, where A.I. is still in post-production, explained, "MIT had very little involvement [in making A.I.]. Steven sat on his own and wrote the screenplay ... it was solitary going."

Asked what impact the late Stanley Kubrick had on the finished Spielberg film, Kennedy explained that Kubrick "was interested in AI all his life, most notably in HAL," the malevolent computer in his classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick "wanted to take it to the next step, wondering if we have to love the inventions we create."

Kennedy explained that for Kubrick, A.I. was "a long-aborning project, with vast storyboards he worked on for 10 years, and he and Steven would have conversations about it over the years. Kubrick wrote a treatment, there was never a screenplay."

Kubrick's death in 1999 left A.I. in limbo until his family agreed to let Spielberg take on the project. "Steven was given all those materials," Kennedy noted. "In a funny way, it's a merging of sensibilities and oddly, originally he had said to Steven it had a lot of [Steven's] input when Stanley had it. Stanley had said, 'This should be your project because it's more your sensibility than mine.'"

Academics Skeptical of Movie Science
Cambridge being far from Hollywood, not everyone was bowled over by what they saw. One MIT student proceeded to mock the supposedly scientific Hurt's declaration - "A man stands and says, 'Let's put love into a robot'?" - and ended by predicting, "I think nobody is going to respect this!"

Kennedy, who cheerfully conceded A.I.'s "obvious comparisons" with Spielberg's E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, coolly suggested that the student "wait until you see the movie and then come back and ask that question."

Maybe that's what all of America will be doing once A.I. opens June 29. As MIT's Cynthia Breazeal, one of the panelists, who has created an interactive robot called Kismet, said, "Science fiction for us is a tremendous source of inspiration, giving us ideas before we have any idea of how to build them. HAL was an icon of AI and maybe if this movie resonates, it could be an icon of this new consciousness of AI. Movies have a way of inspiring people."