Artificial intelligence is one of the great wonders of the contemporary world. The mere idea of it seems to tap into all our dreams and fears, and just as wonders, dreams and fears are so very cinematic, so, naturally, Artificial Intelligence is too.
Creepy A.I. has a rich history at the movies so as Johnny Depp gets ready to Transcend next week lets take a glimpse at five chilling times when Artificial Intelligence looked back.
5. Deep Blue
(Game Over: Kasporov and the Machine)
Let's begin with one from the left of field, and with the added chill of having actually taken place.
Garry Kasparov held the chess world championship for 15 years at the end of the last century and to this day he's still considered by many to be the greatest player who has ever lived. In 1996 and 1997 he agreed to play IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer in a series of games. Kasparov won the first match but over the course of the series Deep Blue ground him down and eventually came out on top. It was the first time a program had beaten a world champion player and a landmark moment in how people looked at computers.
It was the stuff of science fiction as brittle human psychology went up against relentless intangible calculations. Kasparov was a cocky Soviet rock star at the time but he buckled under the machine's cold stare.
It might sound absurd today but the film portrays the great paranoia which surrounded the event, a feeling that the tides were about to turn; a first battle before the war.
On board Ridley Scott's Nostromo there was a menace on the loose. An unflinching, vicious alien hunter picked off the crew, one at a time, but there was, perhaps, an even more detestable creature on board.
The Xenomorph was a hunter, looking for a bite to eat, but Ian Holm's Ash, the crew's on-board undercover android, had a far less understandable prerogative. He was a machine not driven by food or need but by orders which, worst of all, came from big money. A soulless creature, a pawn to the weapon dealers and a perfect representation of heartless greed.
The slimy slight framed Holm played him with calculating brilliance.
3. Agent Smith
The Wachowski's ground-breaking debut probably hasn't aged quite so well as other films of its kind. CGI tends to have a problematic shelf-life, even at the best of times, and perhaps no more so then at the turn of the last millennium. The endless parodying which followed the film's release certainly didn't help matters either but in 1999, The Matrix was like nothing we had ever seen.
The directors conjured the most incredible saturated digital world. They filled it with breathless chases and jaw dropping spectacle and driving it all home was Hugo Weaving's menacing Agent Smith. He seemed to plough through the scenery like a freight train, copying and pasting through lowly civilians, biting at our heels and breathing down our necks. He was as unstoppable and seemingly unbeatable as the T1000 but unlike Robert Patrick's lone machine, Smith, it seemed, was everywhere.
In 1999 The Matrix seemed to nail how people were feeling about the coming information age; Neo in his leather trench coat, enriching himself with free downloads and the corporate Mr. Smith on the other side keeping the world under his thumb. Good thing that one never came to pass...
*N.S.A. stooge loosens grip*
2. HAL 9000
(2001: A Space Odyssey)
'Obvious' you shout; 'ZZZZ' you jeer; but would any such list be complete without good old Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer 9000? HAL's influence over the world of science fiction is so incredibly vast that such worthy list contenders as WALL-E antagonist AUTO or MOTHER from Alien's Nostromo were simply not entitled to compete.
Has such cold calculated malice ever embodied something so simple? Voiced in delightful monotone by stage actor Douglas Rain, the sentient operational computer of the Discovery One gave Kubrick the perfect inhuman foil for his lonely space explorers.
It remains a pop culture icon today.
1. Roy Batty
All of the entries on this list so far have been quite similar in a sense. Cold and calculating, they're all a bit A + B = C, or perhaps more like Mission - Humanity = success. In 1982 Rutger Hauer and Ridley Scott offered us an altogether different sort of intelligence. Blade Runner's malevolent replicant Roy Batty is as artificial as anything else on this list and yet, at the same time, so very not.
He's a worldly, existential type, bored and nihilistic, but a bit of a poet too. What an unknown quantity; what a wonderful, chilling, singular creation. Scott brought Philip K. Dick's android to the screen with such confidence and mystery that we're still scratching our heads about him today.
He's seen things...
A personal list of course and in no way definitive so if steam happens to be currently venting from your ears do let us know why below. What was I silly to have put in? What have I cruelly dismissed? Do tell...
Transcendence hits cinemas Friday