This Short Film Imagines the Terrifying, AI-Fueled Future of Work

In Keiichi Matsuda's short film, a hapless worker competes with AI in a future where humans have been proven to be less efficient than machines.

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Jan 15 2019, 5:44pm

Image: Keiichi Matsuda

As artificial intelligence becomes integrated into more technology in our homes and workplaces, concerns about its ethical implications are growing. It seems like every day there are new tools designed to help workers use their time more efficiently with machine learning. If these trends continue, what will the workplaces of the future look like? What if it goes wrong?

Keiichi Matsuda’s new short film Merger taps into that uncertainty by imagining a workplace where humans have been proven to be less capable than AI. In the five-minute film, Matsuda fleshes out a dim world where humans have been all but overtaken by algorithms, forcing the protagonist—a hapless small- business -adviser trying to help her human clients—to try and shed certain aspects of her humanity in the hopes of reaching peak productivity.

Matsuda, who’s a UI designer as well as a filmmaker, builds a compelling visual world as the main character searches for what Matsuda calls the “ultimate interface,” which will break down the barrier between herself and the software she works with.

“Let’s look at what the technology is around us right now, and see where it could go,” Matsuda told Motherboard in a phone interview. “A lot of people get their ideas about the future from Hollywood, which are based on really old ideas about what the future looks like—like flying cars, and holograms, and tall skyscrapers, and things like that. I’m starting from a different point.”

The future of technology is what most of Matsuda’s work focuses on. His first short film, Hyper-Reality, imagined a future where augmented reality (AR) interfaces have turned daily life into a gamified, ad-driven hellscape. The result was deeply unsettling, but affecting. It was awarded Vimeo’s Best of the Year award in the Drama category for 2016.

Matsuda’s films are based in his knowledge of AR and VR. He’s worked as an interface designer for AR and VR products, formerly as the Vice President of Design at Leap Motion, which develops hand tracking technology for use in VR. His background, though, is in architecture, which he studied formally at University College London. He became interested in filmmaking after using video in the place of digital modeling to present architectural proposals in his coursework.

It’s this diverse background that makes Matsuda feel uniquely equipped to help people feel more empowered about discussing the future of technology and how they use it.

“I’m taking this kind of two-pronged approach—extrapolating on the dark side of technology and then trying to figure out what are the things that we can do to build a better future through using the technology itself,” Matsuda said.

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