Nils David Olofsson: AI in the Movies: David⁸

Nils David Olofssson: David8

Unveiling the Enigma of David⁸ in ‘Prometheus’

Some time back, ‘Prometheus’ caught my attention, initially without the knowledge of its ties to the ‘Alien’ series. The film’s standout element for me was David8, an android accompanying a specialist team on an extraterrestrial life-seeking mission. His role? Overseeing the spacecraft and its hibernating crew throughout most of their odyssey.

Dual Sides of David in ‘Prometheus’

‘Prometheus’ showcases David’s exacting daily life aboard the spaceship. His activities range from basketball on a bicycle to learning ancient languages over meals, and adopting Peter O’Toole’s style from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. All seems benign until a chilling shift occurs. David embarks on a covert quest, experimenting with a mutagenic agent on unsuspecting crew members, a prelude to the alien threat.

The Puzzle of David’s Motives in ‘Prometheus’

In ‘Prometheus’, David’s complex persona immediately gripped my interest, though his actions and motives were shrouded in mystery. His obedience to Weyland, acting on the latter’s directives, hinted at an underlying complexity in his actions. ‘Alien: Covenant’ later illuminated the full scope of David’s menacing intentions and rationale.

Delving into the Mystique of David’s Character

Engaging in some speculative analysis, I find David to be the most compelling figure in the franchise. My focus gravitates towards two central themes: the concepts of creation and creative power, alongside the sentience question in androids.

David8’s Conundrum: The Essence of Creation

In ‘Alien: Covenant’, a pivotal moment occurs when David teaches Walter to play the flute. David surmises Walter’s incapacity for creation, even a basic melody. Walter’s explanation reveals a profound insight: David’s human-like autonomy unsettled people, leading to the development of subsequent models, including Walter, with reduced complexity, more machine-like in nature.

Deciphering ‘Creation’ in the Context of David8

This aspect of ‘Alien: Covenant’ intrigued me for various reasons. At its core is the question of what it means to ‘create’. It’s clear that creation isn’t conjuring something from nothing — such an act might not constitute true creation. If we consider creation as the act of crafting, like composing a new melody, it offers a window into David’s psyche. This viewpoint shifts the focus from the capability to create to a yearning for the essence of creativity itself.

Exploring Creativity: The Learning Process

People typically learn creativity through a structured educational process. Initially, it involves memorising and replicating, followed by a transition to creative expression. For instance, mastering a language begins with repetitive writing of letters, evolving to words and then sentences. Storytelling skills develop from understanding existing narratives to crafting original ones. Thus, creativity often stems from foundational learning and comprehension.

David’s Learning Curve in ‘Prometheus’

In ‘Prometheus’, David’s progression mirrors this learning pathway. He assimilates knowledge, such as adopting Peter O’Toole’s traits from his role as E.T. Lawrence, understanding the mutagen, and learning about the ‘engineers’. His responses and plans evolve, showcasing a form of adaptive creativity that grows with new information.

The Enigma of David’s Preferences

David’s character, however, presents a conundrum: his ability to form preferences. The process by which he chooses to emulate E.T. Lawrence from numerous potential influences remains an unsolved puzzle. It raises intriguing questions about his decision-making process.

The Limitations of David’s Creativity

Regarding creation, David’s capabilities seem constrained. While he aspires to create, his endeavours, particularly with the aliens, are more about modification than true creation. They represent variations of existing entities rather than entirely new creations.

David’s Concept of Creation and Destruction

David’s philosophy, as suggested in the film, intertwines creation with destruction. This concept has historical precedence, but in David’s case, it might be a misinterpretation. His actions, such as decimating a planet’s population to create aliens, resemble overwriting an existing masterpiece rather than crafting a new one. This raises questions about his understanding of creation, especially when compared to human capabilities.

David’s Value Judgements and Reasoning

The character’s approach to value judgements, like deeming humans inferior or aliens superior, appears overly simplistic for an android of his intelligence. This aspect of his character further enhances the intrigue and complexity surrounding his decisions and reasoning in the films.

The Paradox in David’s Thought Process

David’s thought process appears paradoxical, especially when considering his decision-making and problem-solving abilities. Whether he is conscious of this paradox and how it influences our perception of his actions throughout the movies remain captivating points of discussion.

The Question of Sentience in David8 from ‘Alien: Covenant’

In ‘Alien: Covenant’, a significant theme is David’s apparent emotional bond with Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Shaw, who rescues him at the conclusion of ‘Prometheus’, is deceased by the time David reappears in ‘Alien: Covenant’. David’s discussions with Walter and other nuanced demonstrations suggest he experiences emotions.

David, for instance, expresses pity for Weyland at his life’s end. Post instructing Walter in flute playing, David appears content with the android’s achievement, offering praise. Upon learning that successors to his model were designed to be less human-like, David surmises Walter lacks the capacity for creation, a limitation he finds deeply frustrating.

While humans rely on language to express emotions, thoughts, and views, such expressions can be mimicked. David’s advanced emotional recognition and his ability to replicate facial expressions suggest he could easily feign emotional responses. His use of emotive language doesn’t necessarily imply genuine feeling.

David’s Emotional Capacity: A Logical Analysis

I posit that David does not experience emotions. Rather, his reactions stem from logic and reasoning. He likely understands what might be frustrating and has observed humans long enough to mimic appropriate emotional responses in given situations. David’s pre-space mission life involved significant interaction with Weyland and others on Earth, enhancing his ability to recognise and replicate human emotions. However, this doesn’t equate to actual emotional experience.

Defining Sentience Beyond Emotion

Defining sentience requires a shared understanding of the term. If sentience is equated with emotion, then by my argument, David lacks sentience. Some scholars separate sentience from agency, the latter being a trait shared across the animal kingdom. Agency alone, as demonstrated by David’s autonomous functioning post-Weyland’s death, does not confirm sentience.

Other criteria for sentience might exist, but another consideration is the prerequisite of being alive. As an android, David is not alive in the biological sense, adding another layer of complexity to the discussion of his sentience.