Warm Bodies is a love story. With Zombies. A movie tale of amor vincit omnia with undead affectations, you could say. A conversation I had today brought this film to mind when someone said …”but zombies don’t have feelings”.
I was thinking (later) that some of the questions and concepts which orbit the concept of the living dead might actually and unwittingly resemble some of the issues concerning artificial intelligence and robotics. In the undead, we find ourselves staring down the double barrel of our own image and form, stripped of personality and everything which by various measures of affectation, emotional supposition or complexity renders a being as recognisably human to us. It is arguably in the removal of the inner depth and subjectivity or “personhood” that a significant proportion of the horror lies. The reflection of ourselves as beings without that subjectivity, personality and depth which we attribute as innate calls into question the existence and truth of those foundational components of our inner life and lived experience.
With robotics and artificial intelligence, we are also in some ways similarly confronted with overtly mindless non-persons which reflect back to us, perhaps less directly that does the generic zombie model, our own selves. The concept that there could be any kind of intelligence or effective agency without the personality and subjective depth with which we are so familiar – this seems to mirror the kind of horror or at least base discomfort instilled in us by an undead being, stripped of all personality and anything recognisably “human”.
Interestingly also, the classic zombie seeks to eat us, to consume us and in many instances to eat our brains, that recognisable seat of conscious awareness. The machine intelligence or robotic presence is a direct reflection and reflexive image of our own minds and technology; it does not so much need to consume us as to assist us to consume our world, to consume each other in commerce and culture. That machines have both come from and come for our knowledge (in many diverse ways) ties this all back into sone indistinct reflective gestalt.
This is a partial and incomplete thesis. I think that those places where our own identities come into question, where they become both the products and functions of our narratives and technologies – this is a fascinating and fertile field for investigation. What of the zombie love story ? The zombie’s love brings him back into the world of the living, of experience and psychological subjectivity. Should a machine ever fall in love with a person, even in as much as that is only just barely an intelligible statement by current reckoning, we should find ourselves living in strange days indeed.