The first half hour of The Artifice Girl holds a compelling and sharp story — two agents, Deena (Sinda Nichols) and Amos (David Girard), who work to find and prosecute child predators online, are in a terse back-and-forth with Gareth (Franklin Ritch), a man who has developed a software that he has been using to privately find and report pedophiles. Deena and Amos are hoping to get their hands on Gareth’s specialty artificial intelligence technology to be used on a larger, company-wide level. It’s a beautiful opening scene, a back-and-forth dialogue all taking place in one room, allowing a beautiful, slow unraveling of a story, wrapped up with a thrilling, freaky introduction to Cherry (Tatum Matthew).
Cherry is an AI with a highly developed visual image — she (or would the correct pronoun be “it”? — these are the questions that begin to quickly disturb the agents) looks, moves, and acts like a child, though she exists only as a big chunk of data on a server. Cherry is revolutionary, twisting the Turing test (which tests whether artificial intelligence can appear to be sufficiently human-like to fool actual humans) to be used in secret to find creeps and pedophiles. It’s a fascinating concept, and it is gripping when Cherry first appears on a desktop screen, appearing completely human, answering questions with ease. Though Cherry does so with this ever-so-slight uncanny robot lilt — something that Deena can sense and Amos cannot, a gut feeling working on impossible-to-locate subconscious levels.
It’s a great premise, and the rest of The Artifice Girl is not boring by any stretch — Cherry continues to learn, grow, and progress as a tool for law enforcement; but as she does, questions of emotion, consent, humanity bubble up and cause rifts between the group.
Ultimately, though, the film fails to really meaningfully progress past its earliest questions. While Cherry becomes tangibly more and more “human” in features and appearance, the questions around the ethics of using her and whether or not she feels “real” emotion eventually stagnate and just run in the same circles. One can’t help but feel some of the conclusions The Artifice Girl reaches are a touch questionable, defensive of artificial intelligence to a potentially unnecessary degree — for example, a moment in which Deena tries to draw a connection between AI like Cherry and children in terms of autonomy and care feels pretty weak.
It’s not to say that The Artifice Girl isn’t asking important questions: to say that we need to be thinking about where our relationship with artificial intelligence and an increasing human reliance on digital, nonhuman assistance, is an understatement. Unfortunately, much else of The Artifice Girl fails to sing. Structurally, it can feel abrupt and disjointed. Visually, the film has a certain plainness to it, with flat and uninteresting composition, lacking an aesthetic intrigue to match the story that it’s telling. While Cherry’s plight is certainly interesting, the characters around her feel fairly one-note in their purposes — they are simply there to provide different perspectives toward grappling with the AI, and are not really shifting or experiencing major arcs as people themselves.
The questions that The Artifice Girl asks are a fantastic, compelling launching point, but some high concept queries about our rapidly developing worlds of artificial intelligence and digital reliance are ultimately not enough to fuel an entire feature.