1. An AI Primer: Two Points
Let us begin by distinguishing the Ben Kingsley-voiced bookends to AI, which I will call the outer frame, from the rest of the film, which I will call the inner narrative. The inner narrative begins circa A.D. 2125 with a speech by Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt, right) proposing that the Cybertronics corporation should build a robot child who will love its parent or parents.5 That inner narrative ends roughly two thousand years later (i.e., in the 42nd century) with the first robot child, David, spending a day with an awake-for-one-day-only resurrection/reconstruction of his adoptive, human mother Monica Swinton (Frances O'Connor), finally falling asleep with her. This quasi-happy resolution of David's quest for home and love is arranged by a group of benign, technologically very advanced, spindly, translucently metallic creatures, of which the Ben Kingsley-voiced outer narrator turns out to be a prominent member.
Both AI's inner narrative and its outer frame are necessarily mysterious to the extent that we aren't sure who David's Giaccomettian saviors are. It may not be especially important to know whether they are orga(nic) or mecha(nical); after all, it wouldn't be too unsatisfying to be told that the spindly creatures are supposed to transcend those categories. But the question of their descent — whether the spindly creatures are descendants of the mecha we see in the 22nd century portion of the inner narrative, or, what I take to be the principal alternative hypothesis, they are extra-terrestrial — is crucial in a film so centrally concerned with various sorts of parent-child relations.
I think that the right story about the spindly creatures is that they are the descendants of the inner narrative's 22nd century robots. I will follow the usage common in online discussions of AI, and call the spindly creatures supermecha — with the proviso that we keep in mind that it's the creatures' descent from the mecha and not...