Late last week, at around the time the Bank of England’s chief economist was warning that automation threatens up to 15 million British jobs, I found myself sitting in a bizarre cabaret show at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant. In as far as one could glean a narrative in this bonkers burlesque, it was the traditional one of merciless robots battling Earth creatures for control of the planet.
But, as the chief economist makes clear, the entertainment industry is badly off the mark when it comes to the rise of the robots. It may yet be true that one day Robogeddon will involve robots massacring the humans who stand in the way of an efficient society, but for the moment the threat seems rather more economic than cinematic. This means it may be necessary to rethink a number of much-loved movies.
Take The Terminator, the tale of a killer robot sent back from an android-dominated future to annihilate a rebel leader. Given the more likely occupations of future machines, this plotline may require a few tweaks. In the updated version, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg accountant sent from the future to complete John Connor’s tax return after Skynet notices that Connor is owed several years of rebates that it does not wish to pay. Schwarzenegger struts through the film in a nice charcoal suit and tassled loafers, uttering the new catchphrase: “I’ll be back . . . dating that allowance to the previous financial year.”
Taxi Driver The story of a driverless cab that cruises the streets of New York as an Uber taxi, feeling increasingly alienated from its passengers on account of their not being robots. One day it picks up a teenage prostitute and becomes so concerned for her welfare that it resolves to take action against her violent pimp by giving him a very bad passenger rating so he can never get a cab. It also considers assassinating a presidential candidate but rejects that in favour of always charging him at surge pricing rates.
Night at the Museum The highly efficient automated overnight security system begins to detect strange events and starts submitting reports claiming that all the exhibits have come to life. In a shock twist, frustrated museum curators decide the system has been infected with a virus and replace it with Ben Stiller.
RoboCop Rather than stalking the streets blowing away criminals, the real RoboCop spends most of its time on the phone explaining why it is too busy to investigate burglaries.
It will issue a police file number for insurance purposes but explains that resources are so stretched that coming out to the scene of the crime would not be a good use of its time. The love interest is played by a CCTV camera.
The Apartment Jack Lemmon is now unemployed, since the insurance company no longer needs low-level clerks, and he never meets Shirley MacLaine, since there is no need for lift operators. To make ends meet he rents out his apartment to horny businessmen on Airbnb. He eventually takes over the whole building and makes a fortune letting out rooms for lovers via a new website called YouShag.
The Empire Strikes Back Call this science fiction! Why would Luke travel all the way to a marshy, swampy planet to participate in Yoda’s time-inefficient training regime? In the new version he trades his bonsai tutor for a Force Fitbit and follows its programme until he reaches level 50.
The Breakfast Club A group of schoolkids receive a detention that requires them to spend Saturday in the school library with people they do not follow on Snapchat. But they cannot get to the detention because the library no longer exists and they cannot geolocate it on their phones.
Clueless The modern remake of the Jane Austen classic Emma. Instead of working tirelessly to fix up her friends and teachers, she simply registers them on Tinder and spends the rest of the movie at the mall. Totes amazing!
I admit some of these will lose something, but that’s auto-tainment.
Illustration by Lucas Varela