AI presents pluses and minuses in new Apple TV+ mystery series, 'Sunny,' starring Rashida Jones

As an actor and a writer, Rashida Jones has spent a lot of time thinking about artificial intelligence. The use of AI was a major issue at the bargaining table during last year's Hollywood strikes. AI is also front and center in her new series "Sunny" for Apple TV+.

“My feeling today — because it changes every day — is it’s here and there’s no going back. There’s an inevitability that we have to accept,” Jones said. “We need some kind of collective ethical parameters about how we use this because it is pretty scary... It's out of our control at this point.”

In 'Sunny," Jones plays Suzie, an expat in Japan whose husband Masa (Hidetoshi Nishijima of "Drive My Car,") and son Zen are missing after a plane crash. She is gifted a companion robot named Sunny as a condolence gift from Masa's employer. Suzie is shocked to discover Masa worked in robotics and programmed Sunny specifically with her in mind. She thought he worked in refrigeration technology. With Sunny at her side, Suzie begins looking into who Masa really was, compared to who she thought he was. As she delves further into the mystery, Suzie discovers that in the wrong hands, the code to creating robots like Sunny can be dangerous. Judy Ongg, annie the clumsy and Jun Kunimura also co-star.

Katie Robbins adapted the series for TV from the novel “The Dark Manual” by Colin O’Sullivan. She says that while there's an optimism to the series from the connection Suzie feels to Sunny, it's also a cautionary tale.

“What AI does in the course of this show, is help people who are turning inward and who have trouble connecting with others. It's beautiful," said Robbins. "But because it is human-made, there’s also tremendous potential for it to be abused and used in dangerous ways.”

The speed at which AI developed in the real world as Robbins wrote the series came as a surprise.

“When I was first writing the show, I was working with an AI consultant and a roboticist and they would sort of talk about this being on the horizon. And I was like, ‘You’re crazy. This show is science fiction. This is never going to happen.’ And they were like, ‘Watch out.’ And then while we were shooting, ChatGPT came out, and as a writer, I am incredibly concerned about the capacity of generative AI.”

In Jones' scenes, Sunny was a less-sophisticated robot in need of human help. Actor Joanna Sotomura was in a nearby tent voicing Sunny's lines and making facial expressions the robot would mimic. “That actually gave me a little bit of relief because I was like, ‘Oh, we’re nowhere near this being an integrated part of our lives,'” Jones joked. “There was a lot of, effort, both within production and post-production, to get her to feel and seem like this highly functioning thing.”

So, would Jones want to own a robot in real-life?

“To comfort me emotionally? No. To fold clothes and do dishes? Yes, very much so,” she quipped.

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