“I was reading about the Ship of Theseus thought experiment and I had the idea to adapt it to a semi self-conscious robot, how would it react if it were replaced slowly part by part – that question fascinated me and the idea grew from there.”

Demeter Lorant

There is this ancient Greek thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus. The founding king of Athens, Theseus, rescued the children of Athens from King Minos’ minotaur and escaped by a ship going to Delos. Each year, the people of Athens commemorated this by taking this ship on a pilgrimage to Delos to honour the god Apollo. After centuries of maintenance, every part of the ship had been replaced with new parts. This raises a question, is that the same ship Theseus rode to Delos all those years ago?

They have been several alternative versions of this conundrum of identity, from Lajos Kossuth’s pocket knife to Trigger’s Broom.

“I had the same broom for 20 years ….. I look after it well. …. I maintained it for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Trigger, Only Fools and Horses (1996)

But this question of identity has recently gained a new angle, thanks to artificial intelligence. If a robot had all its parts replaced over time and had its programming copied and updated to a new brain, is it the same robot? Is its programming equal to that of the memories of a person?

This is the subject of the latest animated short by Demeter Lorant and Full Screen Films. SILEO is about GEFF-325520-BD, a factory robot employed to fix core units of SILEO CO in the far future. Like any machine, parts of him break and wear out and they get replaced. Over time he had a thought…..

“After how many replaced parts would he lose his identity and need a new serial number?”

So, one day he decided to go out the factory and find his creator to help find an answer.

The environment this film is set is mostly clinical in nature, with no sight of human presence at all. Everything is automated. Robots fix robots. Not one fingerprint. As GEFF travels to his creator’s office, he goes pass signs of life, like a tree and a line of ants crawling along the floor. He even travels pass a collection of sculptures of humans, including a copy of Michealangelo’s David. So, humans exist in GEFF’s world … or did they?

The artwork adds to the unnaturalness of the environment, with the use of sharp tones and shiny textures reminiscent of early CG animation. The original plan was a more comic book-like style, and some clips of that that look are present in this film. The change of heart was due to time constraints. I personally like how it turned it, as the style adds to the story.

 This artificial look is enhanced by the industrial soundtrack. This is clearly an artificial creation. The only natural thing is Nate Goodwyn’s narration and the rain at the beginning?

This eight-minute movie will make you think about a post-human future and make you think about Trigger’s Broom in a different light.

Review by Professor Gordon Wallace

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