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How Artificial Intelligence is depicted in movies
This week, I was reminded that back in 2011, Watson beat two human players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" On his last response, Ken wrote "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." With IBM investing heavily in Cognitive Solutions, should people be worried, or welcome the new technology?
Back in 1950, Isaac Asimov proposed "Three laws of robots":
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Let's take a look at how Artificial Intelligence has been represented in the movies over the past few decades. I have put these in chronological order when they were initially released in the United States.
(FCC Disclosure and Spoiler Alert: I work for IBM. This blog post can be considered a "paid celebrity endorsement" for cognitive solutions made by IBM. While IBM may have been involved or featured in some of these movies, I have no financial interest in them. I have seen them all and highly recommend them. I am hoping that you have all seen these, or at least familiar enough with their plot lines that I am not spoiling them for you.)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Back in 1968, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke made a masterpiece movie about a mysterious obelisk floating near Jupiter. To investigate, a crew of human beings takes a space ship managed by a sentient computer named [HAL-9000].
(Many people thought HAL was a subtle reference to IBM. Stanley Kubrick clarifies:
"By the way, just to show you how interpretation can sometimes be bewildering: A cryptographer went to see the film, and he said, 'Oh. I get it. Each letter of HAL's name is one letter ahead of IBM. The H is one letter in front of I, the A is one letter in front of B, and the L is one letter in front of M.'
Now this is a pure coincidence, because HAL's name is an acronym of heuristic and algorithmic, the two methods of computer programming...an almost inconceivable coincidence. It would have taken a cryptographer to have noticed that."
Source: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eye Magazine Interview, Modern Library, pp. 249)
The problem arises when HAL-9000 refuses commands from the astronauts. The astronauts are not in control, HAL-9000 was given separate orders from ground control back on earth, and it has determined it would be more successful without the crew.
In 1973, Michael Crichton wrote and directed this movie about an amusement park with three uniquely themed areas: Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld. Robots are used to staff the parks to make them more realistic, interacting with the guests in character appropriate for each time period.
A malfunction spreads like a computer virus among the robots, causing them to harm or kill the park's guests. Yul Brenner played a robot called simply "the Gunslinger". Equipped with fast reflexes and infrared vision, the Gunslinger proves especially deadly!
(Michael Crichton also wrote "Jurassic Park", which had a similar story line involving dinosaurs with catastrophic results!)
Last year, HBO launched a TV series called "Westworld", based on the same themes covered in this movie. The first season of 10 episodes just finished, and the next season is scheduled for 2018.
Directed by Ridley Scott, this 1982 movie stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a law enforcement officer. Rick is tasked to hunt down and "retire" four cognitive androids named "replicants" that have killed some humans and are now in search of their creator, a man named J. F. Sebastian.
(I enjoy the euphemisms used in these movies. Terms like kill, murder or assassinate apply to humans but not machines. The word "retire" in this movie refers to destruction of the robots. As we say in IBM, "retirement is not something you do, it is something done to you!")
Destroying machines does not carry the same emotional toll as killing humans, but this movie explores that empathy. A sequel called "Blade Runner 2049" will be released later this year.
In 1983, Matthew Broderick plays David, a young high school student who hacks into the U.S. Military's War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) computer. The WOPR was designed to run various strategic games, including war game simulations, learning as it goes. David decides to initiate the game "Global Thermonuclear War", and the military responds as if the threats were real.
Can the computer learn that the only way to win a war is not to wage it in the first place? And if a computer can learn this, can our human leaders learn this too?
In this series of movies, a franchise spanning from 1984 to 2009, the US Military builds a defense grid computer called [Skynet]. After cognitive learning at an alarming rate, Skynet becomes self-aware, and decides to launch missiles, starting a nuclear war that kills over 3 billion people.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator model T-800, a cognitive solution in human form designed by Skynet to finish the job and kill the remainder of humanity.
In this 2004 movie, Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a technophobic cop who investigates a crime committed by a cognitive robot.
(Many people associate the title with author Isaac Asimov. A short story called "I, Robot" written by Earl and Otto Binder was published in the January 1939 issue of 'Amazing Stories', well before the unrelated and more well-known book 'I, Robot' (1950), a collection of short stories, by Asimov.
Asimov admitted to being heavily influenced by the Binder short story. The title of Asimov's collection was changed to "I, Robot" by the publisher, against Asimov's wishes. Source: IMDB)
Del Spooner uncovers a bigger threat to humanity, not just a single malfunctioning robot, but rather the Virtual Interactive Kinesthetic Interface, or simply VIKI for short, a cognitive solution that controls all robots. VIKI interprets Asimov's three laws in a manner not originally intended.
In this 2015 movie, Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a 26 year old programmer at the world's largest internet company. Caleb wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat. However, when Caleb arrives he discovers that he must interact with Ava, the world's first true artificial intelligence, a beautiful robot played by Alicia Vikander.
(The title derives from the Latin phrase "Deus Ex-Machina," meaning "a god from the Machine," a phrase that originated in Greek tragedies. Sources: IMDB)
Nathan, the reclusive CEO of this company, relishes this opportunity to have Caleb participate in this experiment, explaining how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will transform the world.
(The three main characters all have appropriate biblical names. Ava is a form of Eve, the first woman; Nathan was a prophet in the court of David; and Caleb was a spy sent by Moses to evaluate the Promised Land. Source: IMDB)
The premise is based in part on the famous [Turing Test], developed by Alan Turing. This is designed to test a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
Movies that depict the bad guys as a particular nationality, ethnicity or religion may be offensive to some movie audiences. Instead, having dinosaurs, monsters, aliens or robots provides a villain that all people can fear equally. This helps movie makers reach a more global audience!
Of course, if robots, androids and other forms of Artificial Intelligence did exactly what humans expect them to, we would not have the tense, thrilling action movies to watch on the big screen.
This is not a complete list of movies. Enter in the comments below your favorite movie that features Artificial Intelligence and why it is your favorite!