Earlier this month, sci-fi entertainment brand DUST released the sci-fi film short CC starring sci-fi royalty Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate Atlantis) premiered on YouTube, featuring “technology horror” through an A.I. nanny situation gone bad. Written and directed by twin sisters, Sam and Kailey Spear, this suspenseful sci-fi thriller follows an AID (Artificially Intelligent Device) by the name of CC, who has been leased by a nanny agency to Lena to help care for her daughter. When a violent incident occurs between CC and Lena, an investigative team is tasked with determining exactly what happened.
The film also stars Susan Hogan (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Sharon Taylor (Altered Carbon) and Audrey Wise Alvarez (The Good Doctor). In this interview with the films creators Sam and Kailey, we dive into the inspiration behind the film, and if artificial intelligence can ever truly embody human emotion.
Watch the film short CC here:
PURE FANDOM: This short film is perfect for sci-fi fans. With series like Black Mirror, technology “horror” is sometimes scarier than classic slasher films. What inspired you to make this, and what made you want to explore A.I. in this nanny role?
SAM AND KAILEY SPEAR: Oh yeah, we have always found technology “horror” super scary. We think it’s because technology is developing so fast and most of us don’t actually understand exactly how it works and the full capacity it has.
We decided to explore this idea with an A.I. nanny role because traditionally, a nanny is someone that a parent is supposed to trust. A natural human fear is betrayal of trust. Parents trust nannies to take care of their families, so when they become dangerous, not only is the physical danger scary, the flipped expectations is also disarming.
Another fear that we could explore through the nanny character is the fear of being replaceable. As technology advances, many jobs are being taken over by robots. Can robots be created to be better caregivers than humans? What does that mean for the role of the parent? What jobs should be taken on by robots and what ones are crucial to remain with humans?
Let’s tackle the big question: Do you think A.I. can learn to have real emotion, to love?
That is a big question! (Laughs). There are many A.I films that look into, and argue, the possibility that robots may become so advanced that they acquire real emotion. With this film, we wanted to explore the alternate possibility: that A.I is never going to be something that can have genuine emotion but may acquire the ability to realistically mimic of it.
In our film, an AID can be created to show all the behaviors of having emotion, but even though it is incredibly convincing, the “emotion” is just programmed responses. The “emotion” is not the same as human feelings, it’s just a tool needed for the job it does. At this point, we think that is the more likely version of A.I that we will be seeing in the near future.
Already, there are robots and voice systems programmed to mimic human behavior and emotion while conversing with you – to respond to your emotion like a human. Because human-beings naturally thrive on relationships, these attributes make the robots much easier to use and to trust. These attributes are added by the creator for that very reason.
With AI learning, technology is only going to become more sophisticated and refined in its abilities to mimic human behavior and emotion. We think that is is more likely that we will be seeing A.I that is very convincing in behaving like it has real emotion, like love, sooner than we’ll see a manufactured being with genuine feelings. We wanted to explore this angle on the question in CC because what we find it very scary how quickly and easily a person trusts something that acts like a human and how quickly they forget to look behind the curtain at who is deciding the specific programming and why. We think that’s the big question that needs to be addressed first!
The tears from CC—were they “programmed”, or genuine?
The tears from CC were definitely programmed. They are part of her programming to show that she cares for the child she has been care-linked to. It was a response that was programmed to benefit the client. The nanny agency wants its clients to know that their nanny cares for their child the most. It wants the child in their care to witness “human emotion” so that it is raised with a emotional understanding (something important in human growth). For the programmers, it made complete sense to create a nanny that could cry.
It is so interesting watching audience’s responses to CC. There are many who really want her tears to be genuine. They want CC to truly love the child. They would rather believe that she has real emotion than accept that it is just programming. That is something that we really wanted to open up for conversation with this film. We want people to think about what happens when A.I becomes very good at interacting with people, feeling like a friend, feeling like they truly care, but is in fact just a consumer product made to serve its company’s agenda.
Jewel Staite was wonderful as CC. What direction did you give her to play an artificial being? Where did you draw inspiration from?
Wasn’t she!? We loved working with her. The role of CC needed to balance a lot of very specific things, and she did that brilliantly. We discussed the kind of robot our nanny agency had created. What qualities CC had and why. She was created to be a child’s nanny; to take care of the child, to make them happy, and to teach them. She needed to be someone that a parent would look at and immediately trust. She needed to be someone a child would have fun with and feel nurtured by, while also being strong and taking charge. We talked about the level of emotion that CC would have: that she was created to appear very human, but was still ultimately a machine. That was a fine line to balance, that she was able to pull off wonderfully. She needed to seem very convincingly like a human while ultimately being a machine.
We drew on inspiration from the character David (played by Haley Joel Osment) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The thing that stuck with us about that film was how we cared for the child. We felt bad when he felt sad… but he was just a machine, right? He was only looking sad. If he is machine, is his love real, or does it only look real? That feeling of confusion was actually one of the things that inspired this film. What happens when consumer products become so convincing in mimicking human emotion that we get confused with whether they truly care or not? It goes back to the question about CC’s tears. We knew that moment needed to feel very genuine, very real. We needed to feel that she has emotion, because she does not. We needed to get the audience to think about that.
I love the theme of being cautious around how A.I. affects our daily lives. What do you think is the scariest A.I. technology out right now, and why does it worry you? What should we be wary of?
Well, we’re glad to hear The Aristotle (Mattel’s A.I. babysitter) was cancelled! Some of the issues that we were exploring in our film were very nearly a reality. That said, we expect similar products to crop up on the market. We think it’s scary when commercial benefits outweigh the wellbeing of the client. Harmful decisions can be made just for the sake of money.
DUST, a division of global content studio Gunpowder & Sky, is the first premium sci-fi entertainment brand that reaches fans across all platforms, giving voice to both emerging and established filmmakers.
DUST presents thought-provoking science fiction content, exploring the future of humanity through the lens of science and technology. From timeless classics to cutting-edge movies, series, short films, and podcasts, DUST acquires, produces and distributes all content types.
On August 19th, 2019, DUST launched the DUSTx mobile app on both iOS and Android, with a launch on AppleTV soon to follow.