Directed by Minsk-based animator Ivan Gopienko, the short animated film Children of Future Sleep, clocks in at just under 10 minutes, does more serious thinking about AI than just about any current piece of popular speculative film or fiction. That Gopienko does this with no dialogue, relying on a knack for fantastical visuals reportedly inspired by the likes of Ghost in the Machine and Studio Ghibli, is even more incredible. Without dialogue, the images and sound design have to tell the entire story in a dynamic, visually appealing way.
Between Elon Musk’s existential terror over the rise of artificial intelligence, and the deadly smart AI in Alex Garland’s thriller Ex Machina, the intelligent machine has recently come in for some overstated fear. Apart from Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future or Silicon Valley’s ambition to monetize AI, who among us seems to be imagining the complexity of artificial intelligence? As usual, it’s the science fiction storyteller, as seen in Children of Future Sleep.
While the 19-year-old Gopienko describes the film as taking place in an “anti-utopian future,” this story isn’t dripping with Hollywood’s usual AI ethics or morals. What’s more, it doesn’t feel like it’s clubbing the viewer over the head with half-baked futurism. Gopienko’s AI are intentionally modeled on microorganisms, with these and the entire world created inside Adobe Flash, Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects.
The main character is one such AI, who seemingly has a soul to go with its one eye and two flagella-like appendages. As it navigates the largely black and white world full of mesmerizing motion, transporting bits of data as a job of sorts, it comes to understand the nature of its reality. Instead of spoiling it here, set aside 10 minutes and watch Gapienko’s nice piece of speculative fiction unfold, where you'll see the influence of Hayao Miyazaki, Ghost in the Shell's Mamoru Oshii, and cartoons such as Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.