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AI presents advantages and disadvantages in the new Apple TV+ mystery series “Sunny” with Rashida Jones

As an actress and author, Rashida Jones is intensively involved with artificial intelligence. The use of AI was an important topic at the negotiating table during the strikes in Hollywood last year. AI is also the focus of her new series “Sunny” for Apple TV+.

“My feeling today – because it changes every day – is that it’s here and there’s no turning back. It’s an inevitability that we have to accept,” Jones said. “We need some kind of collective ethical parameter for how we deal with this, because it’s pretty scary… It’s out of our control right now.”

In Sunny, Jones plays Suzie, an expat in Japan whose husband Masa (Hidetoshi Nishijima of Drive My Car) and son Zen go missing after a plane crash. She receives a companion robot named Sunny as a condolence gift from Masa’s employer. Suzie is shocked to learn that Masa worked in robotics and programmed Sunny specifically for her. She thought he worked in refrigeration. With Sunny by her side, Suzie begins to discover who Masa really was compared to who she thought he was. As she delves deeper into the mystery, Suzie discovers that the code used to create robots like Sunny can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Judy Ongg, Annie the Clumsy, and Jun Kunimura also co-star.

Katie Robbins adapted the series for television from the novel The Dark Manual by Colin O’Sullivan. She says that while the series is upbeat because of the connection Suzie feels with Sunny, it is also a cautionary tale.

“In this show, AI helps people who are introverted and have trouble connecting with others. That’s beautiful,” Robbins said. “But because it’s made by humans, there’s also enormous potential to misuse it and use it in dangerous ways.”

The speed at which AI evolved in the real world while Robbins was writing the series was surprising.

“When I was first writing the show, I was working with an AI consultant and a roboticist and they were kind of talking about this being on the horizon. And I was just like, ‘You guys are 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’m incredibly concerned about the capacity of generative AI.”

Rashida Jones, left, and Hidetoshi Nishijima pose for a photo during a media event for the Apple TV+ series “Sunny” in Tokyo, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. Photo credit: AP/Rodrigo Reyes Marin

In Jones’ scenes, Sunny was a less sophisticated robot that needed human help. Actress Joanna Sotomura stood in a tent nearby, speaking Sunny’s lines and making facial expressions that the robot mimicked. “That was actually a little bit of a relief for me because I thought, ‘Oh, we’re not there yet where this is an integrated part of our lives,'” Jones joked. “It took a lot of effort, both during production and in post-production, to make it feel and look like a highly functional thing.”

Would Jones want to own a robot in real life?

“To comfort myself emotionally? No. To fold laundry and wash dishes? Yes, very much,” she joked.