INTERVIEWS

AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN MEY LEE LIM, DIRECTOR, CO-CREATOR, PRODUCER & LYRICIST OF "THE ALAN SONG"


Best Original Song: April 2022 Edition





INTERVIEW



Hello Susan Lim. Thank you for speaking to us today. Your project has reaped so many rewards and has been lavished with such praise one is speechless! Yet again, we want to thank you for capturing a very serious topic with a refreshing and vibrant tone! Alan’s song seems to be intended for a young audience. But when the lovely lion-king-style scene is rolled out, the coup de théâtre of the lion being “snuffed out of the jungle” and thrown into an inanimate life comes in stark contrast to the perhaps Baudelairian “born again, captive yet free” message. How is this intentionally deceptive?


Thank you for the opportunity to present our animated short the ‘Alan Song’, which catapults into the theme of our storyline, a ‘Future of Companionship between Human and Inanimate’. The sudden, dramatic turn of events for a young lion, from life to non-life, the ‘coup de theatre’ which you refer to, is intentional; to story tell the passage of a soul, from wild, a lion cub, to captive, as a cotton-filled plush toy, an embodied sentient inanimate that becomes enabled through artificial intelligence, hence ‘born again captive, yet free’.





Would you describe your (intended) viewership and your message(s) for us?


The Alan Song, with its joyful, lively tune, and playful animation, is appealing to children, and on the surface may appear to be intended largely for a young audience. However, the underlying message of the passage of a soul, from animate to an inanimate form, the metamorphosis, is both deep and spiritual, and when the inanimate, with a soul acquires ‘neurons’, and becomes sentient, this may evoke controversy on the origins of consciousness, and open a discussion of life and non-life, whether AI can become sentient, and the meaning of consciousness. So, with these considerations in mind, the ALAN song can appeal to both adults and children alike.






Do you draw a parallel between the future companionship between humans and inanimate and dystopian works as far back as the 2001 Space Odyssey?


I can’t say this has crossed my mind at all. Quite the contrary, the storyline delivers a positive view of a future companionship between human and inanimate. The use of an adorable plush toy as the inanimate, rather than a metal-clad robot, is intended, at least aesthetically, to dispel the notion that inanimates enabled with AI, or embodied AI systems, are fearsome and may contribute to an undesirable, grim impact on society.


I strongly believe that a partnership of man and machine enables the performance of a task better than either can do alone, from my personal experience as a robotic surgeon.

It is with optimism for a brighter future, that the ALAN song seeks to share the theme of a future companionship between human and inanimate with audiences, through music and film.





Would you say that AI started shaping our “future” through cinema and that, in that respect, reality imitates art? Or is this a scientific matter plain and simple?


Cinema has always been a medium of communication for artists, storytellers, philosophers, poets, scientists, visionaries, and many others. In the realm of the sciences, cinema has clearly played a role in terms of projecting AI through science fiction movies.

But the concepts originated from visionaries who came together from the fields of philosophy, psychology, computer science, engineering, neurosciences, linguistics, and more, and then shared and popularized within the public domain through cinema.





Do you foresee ethical risks to the development of AI tools? Any political rippling effects?


Society is going to face ethical issues on numerous fronts, particularly in the new and disruptive spheres of medicine, science, and the disruptive technologies, such as gene editing, stem cell therapies, and autonomous systems operating independent of human control as examples. This will have not just rippling effects but require a tsunami of political change to steer the responsible development and adoption of the disruptive technologies, including artificially intelligent tools and systems.


Do you think that robots combined with inanimate companions could provide a solution to loneliness and distress during old age?


Definitely. It is the theme of our storyline, a future companionship between human and inanimate, driven by loneliness and social isolation facing us in modern society today, set against a background of some of the most disruptive technologies of our times.


This is giving rise to a whole new breed of embodied, artificially intelligent systems, which are already deployed as robot assistants and companions not just for the elderly, but also for the infirmed, disabled, and the lonely. Moving forward, with artificial general intelligence and machine learning, these AI systems or robots will be empowered to empathize and respond with emotions, as digital people.





In your previous interview with us, you said that “Alan the musical” was a work in progress. Where are we at now? Do you have any other work in progress you would like to tell us about?


I am really excited to share with you that the soundtrack underlying our animated shorts, the “Lim Fantasy of Companionship for Piano and Orchestra” has recently been presented for its World Premiere in a sold-out concert at the Esplanade Singapore this June 2022.


It was performed by a 78-member Musicians’ Initiative Orchestra conducted by Alvin Arumugam, a coral ensemble of 58 Voices, and acclaimed pianist Tedd Joselson, along with the original ALAN team musicians, Jerome Buigues on electric guitar, Frederic Riviere on bass, and Matthieu Eymard as the Voice of the Inanimate for the climax, Teleportation.