Trust and Transformation in "Atlas": Top Moments from the AI Movie

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch the movie "Atlas" with someone very dear to me.

The movie is about a brilliant analyst named Atlas, who has a deep mistrust of AI but must work with it as her only chance to survive a deadly attack.

The movie was really good, not just because it was interesting from start to finish, but also because of my interest in AI, the future of humans and AI, and the emotional connections formed in different aspects of the movie that I could relate to.

Great acting from Jennifer Lopez, and I couldn't stop laughing at all the conversations she had with Smith during that time.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the movie:

1. Discussion between General Boothe and Colonel Elias on Atlas Shepherd

Elias was of the opinion that bringing in Atlas to their operation to stop Harlan (the AI that went rogue) was a spectacularly awful idea from the General whom he reports to.

The General responded that Harlan is an existential threat and Atlas was the best chance of getting another rogue AI led by Harlan to talk. He was of the opinion that her analysis and fieldwork on Harlan had been flawless.

Elias countered, saying, "She failed her ranger exams four times, and her psych eval says she is rigid and hostile."

The General replied that he preferred "driven and determined" as a description, countering Elias's stance.

Elias said he is the only general in the whole department who would even consider working with her. The General responded, "She has pushed through the impossible," and mentioned the challenges Atlas had in early childhood, like her father deserting her at 8 and losing her mother at 11.

Elias added, "...making her emotionally unstable."

And the General retorted, "Making her one of the sharpest minds in our arsenal."

The discussion continued with Elias arguing against Atlas's involvement, but the General eventually stated that he believes in Atlas, and so will Elias, followed by a "Yes sir" from Elias.

This part of the movie stood out for me. Atlas can be anyone in society who has been through rough experiences in life and had little to no control over them. Many people who do not have such rough experiences do not understand or find it easy to relate to or understand what such persons like Atlas have to deal with. They couldn’t care less about that, because their circumstances are favourable, so the easiest option is to judge/label people like that, as Elias was doing (maybe unconsciously). The General could recognize that although Atlas had a rough childhood, she was a valuable asset to the Institute, but Elias was bent on defining her worthiness based on her difficult life.

Just like most people in society, Elias expected Atlas to be emotionally unstable, useless, rigid, dangerous, and hostile: not necessarily because he had closely looked at Atlas or tried to understand her, but just bent on judging her from the "labels" defined for people like that. Labels, just like stereotypes, are dangerous. They put people in a box and stifle opportunities for such persons to thrive when perpetuated by humans with a mindset like Elias. This is only a movie, and Elias would learn the hard way that he was wrong, but we don't have to wait till it's too late to understand that we should not judge anyone over things they had no control over.

People might have challenges growing up, feeling a sense of belonging, or understanding why they were born into certain challenging situations. There are many things going on underneath with different people, and rather than judge them on the surface, we should seek to better understand them and always remember that just because some of us are "lucky" or "privileged" to have everything seemingly going well in our lives, it is not the same experience for everyone else.

Success in life is not necessarily defined by the kind of experiences we have growing up. It is defined by how much meaning we make of our lives, irrespective of how lucky or unlucky our backgrounds may appear to be.

The lesson: backgrounds don't define a human's potential.

2. Atlas's Conversation with Smith AI in the Sinkhole after Firing the Ion Bomb

This was my favorite part of the movie, and I think it was just perfect acting. This was after Atlas instructed Smith to fire the Ion Bomb when she was under heavy fire from Casca and crew. I loved this part for many reasons. Atlas was literally in a hole (a sinkhole). In my imagination, being in a hole is akin to being at the lowest point in one's life. Here was Atlas, with all her distrust for AI systems and letting computers get into her head, at her wit's end on how to navigate the situation.

After asking Smith for recommendations on how to improve their odds of survival, Smith suggested her attachment to the neuralink as the best and only chance for survival. They had to sync. By syncing, Atlas would have full access to all the AI's capabilities, making the combination very powerful for both.

At this point, Atlas had to set aside her mistrust to survive at her lowest point (sinkhole). She confirms her distrust by saying, "No digging around my personal memories..." Trust is hard, but sometimes it is the best chance we have to find what we truly seek in a world where people are ready and willing to take advantage of your trust. But we cannot really do without it.

Atlas agrees to wear the neuralink, and this conversation was so touching:

At first, there was an error in syncing, and Smith had to power up again.

Smith: "What is your name?"

Atlas: "Atlas Maru Shepherd."

Smith: "What is your rank?"

Atlas: "I'm not a ranger."

Smith: "That is obvious."

Atlas: "Smith, I swear to God..." (in frustration).

Smith: "This won't work if you do not answer."

I felt at this point the AI was getting Atlas to open up so they could sync properly. Atlas had agreed to wear the neuralink to improve their odds of survival, but it was not syncing properly because she was still closed off from responding to the questions.

Atlas: "I'm an analyst."

Smith: "Do you prefer pie or cake?"

After some back and forth, with increasing frustration from Atlas, Smith said, "I suppose it is a standard technique for establishing trust."

Trust was key to this sync, and to establish it, all barriers to openness on Atlas's part had to be cleared through interaction.

Smith: "...and we need that trust to overcome whatever it is that is preventing you from syncing."

Smith: "There were spikes in your amygdala when you saw those dead rangers... but there was a sharper increase when you mentioned the name Harlan..."

Atlas: "Because Harlan is dangerous."

Smith: "There it is again. His name elicits an emotional response."

At this point, I gained a beautiful insight: our emotions and feelings matter. The world may tell you to stay strong, be as hard as you can, never let emotions get to you, always be tough and strong... but the truth is that emotions matter and affect us at deeper levels than we can imagine if we keep it locked up and do not confront, overcome and let it go. This is done easily through opening up about this to trustworthy people and getting that much needed reassurance from such persons. That is the best way! Yes you can’t be too sure of certain people, but it is a risk one must take to build real trust and break such mental barriers to healthy living. 

The spikes Smith saw when Harlan was mentioned by Atlas imply that these emotional reactions are subtle, but if we do not confront them and keep hiding them under the cloak of being strong, tough, and hard individuals, such emotions will keep having a self-perpetuating impact on us. Most of us may not even be aware of how much such deep emotions affect our nervous systems, as pointed out by Smith.

So the insight was that we have to be aware of these life experiences or events that we have somehow pushed to the background of our psyche, which still elicit an emotional response despite how strong or centered we try to be or show the world. We must open up about these aspects of our being and thoughts which we so desperately want to keep away, but wield so much power over our emotions still. Repressed emotions become more powerful the more we try to wave them aside or just keep them to ourselves rather than opening up with trust.

Smith: "What was your connection? Did you love him?"

Atlas: "What?! No!"

Smith: "Did you hate him?"

Atlas: "You know what? I'm not doing this!"

This was Atlas once again allowing her mistrust to come in, but Smith was persuasive in a sense.

Smith: "In order to synchronize, I have to understand why you are fighting this!"

Atlas eventually opened up even after screaming, "Enough."

Smith: "He was supposed to keep you safe. And you trusted him."

Atlas: "Yes."

And then the sync chimed in to show the continuation.

Smith confirms at 40% that Atlas will begin to have access to all of its systems and adds,

"I will keep you safe."

That was a beautiful conversation filled with many lessons. To support and be able to establish trust and rapport in conversations with people like Atlas, who may have distrust based on personal life experiences, it is important to get them to relax and be willing to share. This is done through asking crucial questions and making such persons know that you are only trying to understand the basis of their emotional responses to situations they usually do not wish to talk about.

When you eventually break through that resistance, you allow such individuals to be themselves and be able to take on the required trust to cooperate and collaborate with whatever you have for them. But the first step is establishing that trust through a genuine understanding of why. That was profound.

3. Atlas Waking Smith Up with the Neuralink from Elias:

The third and last part I found most intriguing was this moment when Atlas and Colonel Elias lay next to each other bound in the room by Harlan.

Atlas: "Smith, wake the f*** up, now!"

Smith: "There is no need to swear, but nice to hear from you, Atlas."

Elias: "What the hell was he saying?"

Atlas: "That we need to fully sync."

Elias: "What the hell are you waiting for?"

Atlas: "...... I couldn't do it."

Smith: "But I know you can."

Atlas: "Would you stop talking to me like that?!"

Smith: "Like what?"

Atlas: "Like you care."

Smith: "I do care."

Atlas: "You don't. You don't."

Then she started crying while explaining her guilt about leading all the rangers to their deaths and that everyone on Earth is going to die because of her.

Smith: "This is not your fault, Atlas."

I won't spoil the movie more at this point, but she completely opened up to Smith on why. You should watch the movie to get all the story behind her fear and guilt.

At the end, Smith said:

Smith: "Atlas, it's impossible to be responsible for an event over which you had no control."

Smith: "You've carried the weight of this alone your whole life. But you are not alone now."

Smith: "You might be the reason for Harlan, but that also means you are the reason why I exist."

Smith: "Please, Atlas, let me in."

Atlas: "Okay, synchronize."

After moments of synchronizing:

Atlas: "This is what it feels like to be you?"

Smith: "This is what it feels like to be us."

I loved this part because it showed an acknowledgment of Atlas's story by Smith, not blaming her for the mistake or letting her keep feeling that guilt, fear, and negative emotions about it but rather letting her see that she is the reason it exists and that she does not have to keep carrying that weight alone anymore. She has an entity, "Smith," who totally understands her situation and can help her feel safe and free to open up and talk about those deep-seated feelings without feeling guilty anymore. That was when the sync went to 100% complete. Atlas let go of this weight and sync happened! She was surprised to see how much more capable she became by letting her weight go and opening up to let "Smith" in.

Now, Smith is an AI in this movie, but Smith can be human too. You can be a Smith to someone like Atlas. You can be a safe space for persons carrying weights on their shoulders that they are uncomfortable about. Don't be Elias, be Smith. And if you can't be Smith, let people like Atlas be and find their Smiths. With Smith, an Atlas will be much more empowered to let go of limiting thoughts, beliefs, and burdens and be their best, contributing meaningfully to the world.

The rest of the movie was so beautiful to watch, but these three parts were the most touching for me. I also admired the conversation between Atlas and Smith on life, death, and the interconnectedness of all things, but these three mentioned were my favorites.

Have you seen Atlas? Let me know your thoughts if you have the time to comment!

If you haven't seen it, it's on Netflix and I highly recommend you watch it especially if you are into Science Fiction. :)

Keep winning!


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