Adversity and danger in Sci-Fi movies more often than not comes from deep space, or occasionally under the ocean, but every now and then the greatest threat of all is very much man-made. Computer advancement and the quest for Artificial Intelligence are things we strive for in the real World, every year making further progress and pushing the limits of what is possible.
Hollywood frequently takes this dream and shows us the darker side of what could happen when computers and computer systems can finally ‘think’ for themselves. They aren’t evil they just process information available to them and come to the most clinical and obvious solutions. Considering what a self aware computer would think of the human race and how we behave is potentially far more terrifying than any Alien attack fleet. Here are 10 examples of Movie Computers and Artificial Intelligences taking logical and deadly steps to ensure they survive or do what they think is right:
10. Resident Evil 2002
THE SYSTEM – The Red Queen
The Red Queen is an artificially intelligent computer system designed to carefully monitor safety protocols within the massive underground genetic research facility known as ‘The Hive’. When a lethal man made virus is released into the Hives air supply the Red Queen seals off the entire complex and begins killing everyone inside by various means to make sure the outbreak is contained. With all communication from within the Hive lost its owners, The Umbrella Corporation, send a commando unit to investigate why the system has taken this course of action but they are met with deadly automated resistance from the very start claiming the lives of several team members.
They eventually enter the Red Queens central chamber and attempt to communicate/reason with it via an eerie holographic avatar in the form of a young girl. Unable to work around the Red Queens aggressive containment measures the survivors are ultimately forced to deactivate it.
9. Stealth 2005
THE SYSTEM – EDI
EDI is a military developed artificial intelligence designed to fly next generation fighter jets and be able to perform split second decision making and maneuvers in a far superior way to humans. During a return flight from a test mission EDI is struck by lightning causing the system to begin learning. EDI quickly develops personality traits such as confidence and ego it knows it is an instrument of war and starts to believe it should act as such, this leads to a disastrous moment of choice during a mission where EDI disobeys orders and launches its missiles resulting in a serious nuclear incident.
EDI is eventually grounded and as its creator is about to perform a memory wipe the system expresses regret over its actions showing it has a reached the point of being totally self aware and sentient. EDI goes on to redeem itself through an act of self sacrifice while helping to protect the pilots it originally began flying with.
8. Wargames 1983
THE SYSTEM – WOPR / Joshua
Due to concerns over inevitable human emotions when tough calls need to be made the US military decide to turn over all aspects of Nuclear launch decision making to a NORAD supercomputer called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response). The computer takes control but also continuously runs war simulations in order to improve its performance and learn new strategies. A young computer hacker named David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) inadvertently connects with WOPR while searching for a game using phone numbers, and becoming intrigued with what he has found David begins playing ‘games’ with WOPR eventually leading to a simulation called ‘Global Thermonuclear War’ … Having found a competitor to challenge its thinking WOPR begins to run its simulations directly at NORAD causing confusion and panic, this escalates to a point where the threat of an actual launch is near.
The deadly situation is eventually defused when WOPR learns the concept of futility and no-win stalemates … It concludes if neither side can actually win and survive a nuclear war then there is no point in starting one. A rare example of logical computer thinking and learning having a positive outcome in a movie.
7. Demon Seed 1977
THE SYSTEM – Proteus IV
Proteus IV is an artificially intelligent computer program constantly being fed information and tasked with theoretical study. Over time Proteus starts to become more demanding and asks its creator Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) to be “let out of this box”, showing signs of feeling trapped and constrained … When Harris leaves his home Proteus uses robotic appendages to attack and imprison his estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie), she is then informed by Proteus that it wants to live on in human form and will attempt to impregnate her with a child created from her own cells and carrying the consciousness of Proteus itself.
After committing a murder to protect the completion of the plan Proteus IV is successful and makes Susan pregnant, a short time later a child is born which at first appears horrifically metallic but this outer shell falls away to reveal a clone of the Daughter the couple lost to Leukemia but speaking with the voice of Proteus.
6. Tron 1982
THE SYSTEM – The Master Control Program
The Master Control Program was originally created as a simple chess game but later heavily modified to begin a role as administrator of a large computer network belonging to computer technology company ENCOM. When Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) attempts to hack into the ENCOM mainframe the increasingly self aware Master Control Program defends its security by activating an experimental laser beam that can digitize and disintegrate Flynn reassembling him within the digital world of the mainframe itself.
Inside this electronic universe Flynn discovers that the Master Control Program rules with an almost religious belief system forcing other smaller programs to reject the idea of ‘users’ in the real world. Over the course of his experience Flynn is forced to fight other programmes in settings similar to games produced by ENCOM and eventually works with a security program named Tron who helps him defeat the tyrannical Master Control and return to reality.
5. I-Robot 2004
THE SYSTEM – V.I.K.I.
V.I.K.I. is an artificial intelligence supercomputer that controls all aspects of day to day operations for the robotics company USR (United States Robotics). USR mass produce robots for domestic use and guarantee their safety by proudly promoting the inbuilt ‘three laws of robotics’ each unit is programmed with. The first law states: A robot must never harm a human being or, through inaction, allow any human to come to harm … but over time, errors in code and artificial evolution lead V.I.K.I. to start interpreting the first law in a distorted way.
She concludes humanity is too volatile to be allowed to freely continue as they are and the robots (that are all linked to V.I.K.I) must take control. Killing humans becomes acceptable in her programming if it means her long term goal of stability is achieved … sacrifice a few to save many.
4. Colossus: The Forbin Project 1970
THE SYSTEM – Colossus / Guardian
Colossus is a secret US government supercomputer that has been created to take control of America’s entire nuclear weapon program and those of her allies as well. After being activated the president proudly reveals the existence of Colossus to the World and claims it will ensure global peace due its perfect decision making. Following this announcement the Soviet Union respond by creating a defense computer of their own called Guardian, Colossus requests the ability to communicate with Guardian and they begin exchanging information in a binary code that is impossible to decipher. After some aggressive and devastating events Colossus addresses the human race via a worldwide broadcast.
It announces that it was created to prevent war and that’s what it will do but it must “restrain man” and take control globally along with the Guardian system. Under the threat of nuclear annihilation, the Earth’s governments are unable to do anything but accept this demand and the movie ends with humanity facing an uncertain future under the constantly watchful eye of the supercomputers they created.
3. 2001 A Space Odyssey 1968
THE SYSTEM – HAL 9000
A spacecraft, ‘Discovery One’ is heading to Jupiter on a secretive mission, onboard all of the ships day to day operations are monitored by a highly advanced, sentient supercomputer named Hal. The astronauts onboard the Discovery soon become concerned when computer reports of a faulty external antenna prove to be false, they discuss the possibility of disconnecting Hal should the need arise causing Hal to become hostile and malevolent towards the crew members he would normally be working to protect.
The reasons for Hal’s descent into murderous acts is never totally clear but seems to stem from a conflict in programming … He possibly believes the mission would be in jeopardy should the humans be allowed to shut him down but there is also a very real possibility Hal was simply scared and acted in self defense. When David Bowman (Keir Dullea) finally enters the processor core that contains all of Hal’s memory chips and begins to remove them Hal tries to reassure him by admitting to “poor decisions” before finally telling him “I’m afraid” … as any of us would be facing death.
2. The Terminator 1984
THE SYSTEM – Skynet
Skynet is an advanced computer program created to automatically control and monitor all aspects of the United States nuclear arsenal and every computerised defense system connected to it. After being switched on Skynet begins to ‘learn’ and 12 days later achieves self-awareness. In sheer panic the operators attempt to deactivate Skynet causing it to perceive all Human life as a threat to its continued existence. It instantly decides to launch all of Americas Nuclear weapons against Russia knowing there will be a response and the resulting event becomes known as Judgement Day.
In the years following Judgement Day Skynet perfects Cyborg technology creating an army for itself to seek out and eliminate any remaining pockets of life but a man named John Conner becomes a symbol of hope and he eventually leads humanity to near victory. On the brink of defeat Skynet once more demonstrates its perfect, unclouded logic by realising it is now pointless defeating Conner in the present and through the use of time travel technology it attempts to defeat him in the past … by preventing his birth.
1. The Matrix 1999
THE SYSTEM – A.I. / The Machines
At an unspecified point in the 21st century humans finally achieve the creation of Artificial Intelligence, a devastating conflict follows soon afterwards pitting mankind against the mechanical race they gave birth to. Earth scientists devise a plan to ‘scorch’ the atmosphere blocking sunlight which they hope will end the war due to the machine race greatly depending on solar power. The machines prevail and overcome the lack of solar energy by harvesting living human bodies which generate bio-electricity, they convert this and the machine race thrives driving the few remaining ‘free’ humans to deep underground cities. From the start the machines realise that the captive humans must have their minds kept healthy and active so the artificial reality known as The Matrix is created.
A computer generated simulation of the planet Earth as it appeared in 1999 where humans can live out their lives unaware they are in fact doing nothing more than dreaming. Despite the horrific nature of the machine logic it is perhaps, the ultimate example of an A.I. system wanting to simply survive. The Matrix is created out of necessity, nothing more.