Two lovers find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly AI experiment.
I love dystopian science fiction shorts, not least because all the gloomy dark corridors mean I have to actually clean my my computer screen properly to work out what’s going on.
Lab Rat is a compelling and immensely satisfying example of the genre (you can watch the whole film below), wrapping up in under 15 minutes its tale of an artificial intelligence so sophisticated that what makes us human no longer sets us apart.
It asks questions about identity and the fear of being left behind, of obsolescence. It also – particularly in its last moments – raises many more questions about life and love.
The conundrum is how to tell a futuristic story with a small cast and budget, and director and co-writer Nour Wazzi has really leveraged the strengths of those limitations. Lab Rat is both frightening and realistic about likely technological advances and eternal human behaviours.
Alika (Kirsty Sturgess) is having a workplace fling with her co-worker Johnny (Matt Harris). Their CEO Dr Edwards (Abeo Jackson) is Alika’s mother, already raising tensions between them.
Inside their offices, all is calm and quiet. Outside on the streets unrest is growing as the population finally becomes aware of the impact robotics is going to have on their jobs: 40% are under threat from this new wave of AI.
Dr Edwards’ company is at the forefront of these developments – new androids can sweat, bleed, feel emotion – and in an unexpected move locks down the offices and forces her small team to identify who among them is not quite human. No one can leave until it’s done.
Like Dr Edwards’ employees – Marvin, Alika, Johnny and Ellie – I was distracted by the desperate need to work out who might be “genuine”, a real person. Meanwhile Alika is forced to question whether Johnny is indeed as he jokingly claims just “a piece of meat”.
We hear a lot about the undercutting of wages nowadays but much less about automation of a workforce, capitalism replacing people. It’s almost as if we want to draw a veil over the decimation of solid and established industries decades ago and the devastation that caused.
Lab Rat forces us to watch how employment insecurity can turn us against one another, and more generally how easily people’s behaviour can change when we are threatened: looking for difference, bullying, othering.
Wazzi makes great use of coloured lighting, the small cast and a near-empty office building. There’s wit in the clever, realistic dialogue (Wazzi co-wrote it with Matt Brothers). I did like Johnny’s interrogation of poor Marvin, devastating for all the wrong reasons: “What about Marvin. The mysterious intern. No personality!”
Of course the big question is, if you can build near-humans that are indistinguishable from the real thing, you have to build in what makes us human – flaws.
In which case, surely – if they can’t actually do more than us or do it better – they are obsolete before they are even created? I hope so anyway…
Lab Rat is available on DUST. Watch the trailer below or scroll down for the full film:
Watch Lab Rat (it’s just under 15 minutes’ long):