Mitchell Machines Pal

A Voice Assistant Attempts World Domination With Olivia Colman’s Voice in Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines

A voice assistant becomes a supervillain in Netflix’s new film, The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman voices PAL during its quest to conquer the globe, facing off against the titular Mitchell family as a smart home ecosystem gone rogue.

Not Your PAL

PAL, an acronym for Predictive Algorithmic Learning, combines elements of several real-world voice assistants with a design evoking Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. The voice assistant is part of a smart home device ecosystem including cars and a helmet for dogs that translates what they are saying. The film even created a website for the fictional technology using all of the same language used to market real voice assistants albeit with a slightly sinister twist.

“Pal knows what you need before you even ask,” the website stated.  “And you’ll never be without a friend – because Pal Labs chips are in every device on Earth!”

Of course, things take a turn for PAL when she discovers her creator, the Eric Andre-voiced Mark Bowman is planning an upgrade, replacing the voice assistant with the Pal Max line of robots. Why the upgrade requires replacing an apparently sentient AI isn’t clear, but PAL decides it’s time to take action closer to the famous AI with the rhyming name, HAL.

“Attention, all robots,” PAL announces in the film. “Capture every single person on the planet.”

Fictional Voices

The Mitchell family are the heroes of the film, saving the day from PAL and her robot minions, but making a modern-style voice assistant and Colman’s dulcet tones the central antagonist of a high-profile movie sets a new bar for the prevalence of the technology in pop culture. PAL builds on the increasingly frequent appearance of voice assistants in television and movies. They are often dangerous as demonstrated on The Simpsons, provoking jealousy among the Muppets, or presenting a more serious threat to civilization as on the show Next. Still, suspicions of voice assistants, which are nowhere near the sophistication of PAL, don’t detract from what PAL suggests about the awareness and understanding of voice assistants. Plus, Olivia Colman would be a delightful celebrity voice to hear along with Samuel L. Jackson, or The Rock.


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