Pinocchio and Artificial Intelligence
In 1883, Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s book, Pinocchio. Based in Tuscany, Italy, the book tells the story of a marionette puppet carved out of wood by the toy maker, Geppetto. The puppet comes to life but only as a wooden boy and Pinocchio has to learn how to behave as a real boy in his quest to become one. He learns the values of honesty, hard work, and the importance of education. Through allegory, Collodi’s Pinocchio also falls victim to many of the vices and obstacles in life such as running away, gambling, stealing and laziness.
The story written by Collodi proposes a very grim view of working class Italy and the book was not intentionally written for children. However the addition of an extra chapter at the end of the book and the Fairy grants Pinocchio his wish of being a real boy because of his loyalty in returning home to Geppetto and offering his maker the money he had earned, displaying unselfishness. It alludes to several known parables in the past such as Jonah and the whale from the Bible and the myth of The Golden Ass.
In America, Steven Spielberg wrote and directed the science fiction film, Artificial Intelligence: A.I. in 2001. The film tells the story of an android who longs to be a human boy, replaying the theme of Collodi’s Pinocchio in a futuristic twist. In the film, a robot boy named David in a modern world yearns to be a real human boy and is convinced that he can be a human because of his programmed ability to love. However, David fails to learn and discern the human vices of manipulation, hatred, and malice and falls victim to a scheme wherein he is made to behave malevolently. David is returned to the land of androids where he struggles to learn the ways of the world.
Just as Collodi’s Pinocchio, David is an artificial boy who needs to learn how the world operates in order to become a functioning member oft hat society. David and Pinocchio need to be able to discern the values of the societies they are in and to make good decisions for themselves. Both boys fall victim to trusting the wrong people, being misused and learning the hard way how life without parents and authority can be. David and Pinocchio also share similar adventures such as being drowned in the ocean and saved, taken to a fair ground island (Pinocchio to the Land of Play and David to Coney Island, New York). But while Pinocchio’s ending is the happily ever after of finally knowing what it is like to be a real boy, David’s happiest moment is not turning into a boy, but the deeper knowledge of what it is like to be completely and unconditionally loved by a mother.
Although Pinocchio was not aware of the Fairy’s ability to transform him into a real boy, David, having heard of the story of Pinocchio through the Disney animated film, is very well aware of the Blue Fairy and her powers. Throughout Artificial Intelligence, David is in search of the Blue Fairy, believing her to be a true person that can turn his desire of being a real human boy into a reality. David never finds the Blue Fairy because she only existed in the fairy tale of Pinocchio’s story. However David does find a way he can fulfill his wish–he does not become a human but he is able to know what it is like to be loved by his mother, which is what he desired from the very beginning, his wish to be human stemming only from this deeper desire.
Although they are centuries and continents apart, the themes in Pinocchio are very much present in this modern-day film with many similarities that continue to stand. From the idea of a boy who is not human learning how to be a part of the human society to the wish for a Blue Fairy that can erase one’s mistakes and bring one’s inner wishes to reality, Collodi’s Pinocchio and Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence have much in common despite the cultural and time differences.