The use of A.I. in sci-fi movies as a plot device in sci-fi movies never seems to get old.
From apocalyptic scenarios like The Terminator and The Matrix to (attempted) tear-jerkers like A.I. and Her, artificial intelligence is both worrisome and exciting. So where does our future stand in this regard?
The truth is that we can’t know for sure where things will go, but the path seems to become less murky after each advancement. After all, A.I. is a human invention and therefore might reflect a lot of our human tendencies. Unfortunately, that could very well be its biggest flaw. We have group cohesion, mutual respect, a desire to learn and all kinds of other wonderful things that kept us going for about 100,000 to 150,000 years. On the other hand, tribalism, warfare, violence, discrimination, unpredictability and an undeserved sense of superiority also permeate every area of society. The fact is that destroying ourselves with our own technology is way easier than spending years working to achieve a higher goal. After all, nuclear weapons took years to invent, but only need a brief second to detonate.
So are we going to create a new race of best friends born in a factory, or a self-replicating super enemy the likes of which we’ve never seen? Let’s see what the movies have to say.
What’s Their Beef?
If you’re looking for franchises that predict the potential downside of artificial intelligence, look no further than The Terminator and The Matrix. These films both paint a picture of what could happen if we don’t keep A.I. behavior in check, if that’s even possible.
Remember, humans are intelligent, but we’re also selfish jerks who put our own interests above all others. If computers — with their ability to quickly mass-produce — pick up the same attitude, then it’s safe to say we’ll be their biggest rivals, and therefore Public Enemy Number One.
The main question, though, is “why?” What prompts these machines to suddenly turn on their creators? If they’re so intelligent, you’d think that they’d recognize the intellectual superiority of humans and see themselves as equals, considering their apparent lack of emotional instability that plagues humanity.
The Terminator – A.I. in Sci-fi Movies
In The Terminator, Skynet turns out to be a virus or anomaly in and of itself. For some unknown reason, a program designed for military defense decides it wants to go on the offensive. Despite this supposedly independent thinking, the terminators in the movie seem fairly automated. It’s like they have a mandate to destroy the humane race with no real reason behind it. Maybe a designer put a one where a zero should’ve been when they coded the software. If that’s the case, someone needs to be sued.
The Matrix – A.I. in Sci-fi Movies
The scenario in The Matrix is infinitely more complex. Not only do the A.I. machines betray their masters, but they quickly learn to survive before running out of power after their source of solar energy is cut off. How they create a system where they can harvest human body heat in what we can assume is a short amount of time never really gets explained. Nor do we know how they were able to create “Agents” to counteract human resistance forces who can enter and exit the Matrix at will. We just know it sucks.
Could it Happen?
So how plausible is this scenario? Well, movie producers seem to love it because, at least to some extent, it’s believable — albeit theoretical. But filmmakers are artists (for the most part), so the aforementioned movies are meant to entertain, not inform. But perhaps the word of one of the smartest people on Earth might carry more weight.
Most of us know who Stephen Hawking is. The guy is a legend among laypeople and scientists alike. And he has a dire warning for all of us. In a 2014 interview with the BBC, Hawking explains that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” When questioned further, he elaborates by saying “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate…Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
Sounds grim, but there are those who disagree. Rollo Carpenter, who designed an interactive chat program called Cleverbot, argued that we’d be able to maintain control of A.I. long enough to sort out any potential wildcards that could lead to A.I. becoming hostile.
Whether Hawking or Carpenter are right remains will be up for debate until we have some real proof.
Recently, we’ve seen artificial intelligence portrayed in movies that paint an opposite picture to their apocalyptic counterparts. Rather than interacting with hostility, films like A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Her forge beneficial connections on a human level.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence – A.I. in Sci-fi Movies
The 2001 film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence tells the story of a humanoid robot boy (or “Mecha”) who belongs to a long line of artificial children. Named “David,” his owner/mother activates his behavior which is seemingly programmed to simulate a child’s attachment to his/her parents.
Furthering the reversal is that not only are these robots represented as innocent and cooperative, but it’s in fact humans who show hostility to their artificial friends. “Flesh Fairs” are populated by people who seek to keep the human race untainted by A.I. and actively hunt down and destroy Mechas at every opportunity.
While Stephen Hawking might disagree, this movie seems more realistic regarding how A.I. would interact with the rest of us. It indicates the level of control that we would make sure to exercise in their programming, while at the same time showing the fear and intolerance that permeates human society. Just think back to your childhood and you’ll have known at least one person who said that TV and video games are “evil,” or how technology threatens to taint our way of life.
Her – A.I. in Sci-fi Movies
Fast forward to 2013, where Joaquin Phoenix gets involved in a very complex relationship with his own personal piece of artificial intelligence; however, the connection here is far deeper and arguably more messed up than a child-mother relationship.
Referred to as an “OS” (not to be confused with Windows 10), Phoenix’s character purchases “Samantha” and forges a very intimate emotional relationship with her. She grows, learns and adapts, giving him all kinds of fun conversations, good times and even life advice. Strangely enough, she eventually falls in love with him and vice-versa. It’s a cute and thought-provoking story, but in the end, it’s not as convincing as A.I. or even the Terminator and Matrix series.
Everything in Her is perfectly plausible up until the attraction aspect. The reason behind this is that finding a romantic partner is a biological drive. Unless a computer is specifically programmed to act this way (which isn’t the case in this movie), it makes no sense for a piece of software that lacks the chemicals and hormones for love would suddenly develop this emotion. But hey, it’s a work of science fiction and a decent one at that.
A Middle Ground
So we’ve established that humans are unpredictable. Some are nice people, some are jerks and some are just plain evil. If A.I. is capable of similar complex thought, then who’s to say that such diversity can’t occur with it as well?
With artificial intelligence on the tip of everyone’s tongues, the film Her goes directly to the much-fantasized endpoint of romantic human-AI relations. In Her Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theodore falls in love with his AI companion Samantha during his emotionally difficult divorce process. The two share a honeymoon period, followed by a crashing breakup caused by violations of Theodore’s expectations about the relationship. It’s a cute story, in a way. But it’s complete fantasy. To put it simply, the AIs of Her are disembodied slaves of mankind.They are too focused on their humans, and as such, are [Click here to read more…]
I, Robot – A.I. in Sci-fi Movies
I, Robot is a film that does a fantastic job of blending human nature with artificial intelligence. In a world where robots walk around like personal appliances, everyone seems to be living in perfect harmony with their creations. But Will Smith’s character (detective Del Spooner) isn’t convinced, despite there not being a single case where a robot has committed a crime. Their behavior is kept in check through the use of the Three Laws of Robotics, which are programmed to govern their actions and control deviant behavior.
This all changes, however, when the newest models come out. Designed by Dr. Alfred Lanning, the NS-5 robots are seen as a major upgrade. But following Lanning’s alleged suicide, Spooner suspects that one of the robots actually murdered the scientist. Prior to his death, Dr. Lanning warns of “ghosts” in the programming that could cause machines to change their behavior without human intervention — a warning that ultimately proves accurate.
When “Sonny,” a custom robot personally built by Lanning, is accused of the murder, his thought processes are revealed to be much more complex than the rest of the group. He’s upset by the accusation, screaming “I did not murder him!” while under Spooner’s interrogation. He also notices a wink between Spooner and his partner, which he asks about, learning that it’s an indication of trust.
True to Spooner’s warning, the NS-5s turn on their masters, but Sonny’s special design keeps him from joining their ranks. He even learns to use the wink as a way to communicate with Spooner while pretending to side with the machines during one scene. Thanks to his ability to adapt and see the folly in the rest of the NS-5s, Sonny successfully helps put an end to their brief power grab.
In short, like humans, the machines in I, Robot indicate that there are bad apples in the bunch, but not everyone is the same.
How realistic is this scenario? Well, the idea of random ghosts or changes in the programming isn’t that hard to believe. We see it all the time in software, when a program works fine for a while and then just glitches out, requiring a clean install. Fortunately, your laptop isn’t going to punch you in the face just because Microsoft Word decides to zonk out — besides, that program’s glitchy enough as it is. The point is that programming mistakes do come about on their own. Whether they can cause such radical changes as in I, Robot remains to be seen.
Artificial intelligence is an exciting concept, and it took the movie world by storm long before we started making it a reality. Whether it will be universally negative, positive or a mix of both is still a matter of speculation. But there’s only one way to find out, and we intend to do so.