I'm sure I am late to the party but there is a great new film out which ends up where we all need to end up - back in Eden - well in a new heaven and new earth where life flourishes in a place of acceptance and co-operation.
Careful of the spoilers!
The film starts, though, in a violent and crazy video game (Free City) following the "life" of a non-player character (an 'NPC') who is normally limited to being a bank cashier handing over money to marauding players. The point of the game for the players is to commit crimes, to kill people, to cause chaos. But Guy somehow decides that things need be different and begins to act in a different way. The key trigger is a woman - MolotovGirl - a computer programmer who has been involved in the game from the start and had wanted it to be something else entirely. Instead she has become part of the chaos.
Players play Free City through wearing glasses which allow them to interact with the mixed reality of the game. It isn't quite Facebook's Metaverse but it is very close. Although since there is little actual risk to the players' lives, perhaps it is more like immersing yourself in a normal video game. Free City is a selfish place where player are encouraged to rob, destroy, kill to benefit their gameplay. More deaths, more points. There is no morality involved at all. But when Guy puts on some glasses, the scales fall from his eyes and he decides to find MolotovGirl and find out what's really happening.
Guy follows a different path to do this - helping others, avoiding immorality, doing good. He upgrades his character through without seeking to break laws, sets other NPCs free of their normal scripts, and becomes stronger and stronger - despite the game's owner, Antwan, sending in goons to attack him and rewrite the code around him. He's chasing MolotovGirl, fascinated by her. But at the same time, outside the game, we are learning that she's a coder and there may be some exciting code in the background of this game which hints at embedded machine learning (the proper name for most AI) which could lead to sentient computing (actual AI).
Having met with MolotovGirl, who is eventually barred from the game, Guy is left to save the world. He co-opts other NPCs and finds the hidden code - a new island which becomes the haven for the new world which Guy, though his good works, has made accessible to all the NPCs who are now themselves gradually accepting sentience. They have come through hell to reach heaven, a new Eden. Guy isn't a Jesus figure but he is a kind of prophet of new life, pointing his fellow NPCs to a new way to be within the virtual world. And of course people watching the game are enthralled by this new way to be,
The plot is pretty shallow. The visuals are good but not really anything to write home about. Ryan Gosling is as goofy as ever. But there is some interesting ideas in this film about what it might mean if we were to allow machine learning to develop its own thinking and morality - a guide towards co-operation and goodness rather than cutthroat efficiency. A model which we could all do with focusing on in a world of greed and deceit and the destructive power of fossil fuels. Is this a possible way back to Eden. Not really. But it does question whether the geeks exploration of the metaverse might give NPCs an opportunity to find real life which they have control of themselves.
Before the lockdown I wrote a blog asking how we speak to Alexa and other voice assistants. If we shout at them, we probably shout at others - important when most of the voices are women. But how about NPCs. Are they just gun fodder in our games? Are they to be ignored and obliterated for the fun of it. What if we lived in a world where these computer programs might have the ability to connect with us, connect with what we're about, connect with God. It may be a long way away but Free Guy at least gives us a biblical and moral possibility of a way forward with AI.