The idea of artificial intelligence and just how destructive or beneficial it can be to humanity has been explored in film and television since the 1920s with Metropolis. Since it's been explored consistently for so long, it might be hard to notice at first just how prevalent it has been just this year alone. From robots and computers to enhanced dinosaurs and talking teddy bears, 2015 has become the year the A.I. took over film and television.
It isn't just that Artificial Intelligence has appeared more this year as a character or a plot device for a story. It's that 2015 has had more films and television series explore the possibilities and implications for A.I. on a philosophical and practical level, to the point that it has meaning and relevance for real life applications as well. Here I am gonna look at each of what I think are the most important and major depictions of what we call "artificial intelligence" and what we should take away from each portrayal.I've excluded CHAPPiE since I didn't watch it and Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it hasn't aired yet. [Warning: Some spoilers below]
Terminator: Genisys - Programming or Feelings
It wouldn't be the year of Artificial Intelligence without Skynet and the Terminators trying to wipe out humanity. While this film succeeded in terms of nostalgia, I have to go on record and say that the story in this movie was terrible. That aside there is an interesting and important subplot involving Schwarzenegger's Terminator, Pops, and Emilia Clarke's Sarah Conner who he says he is programmed to protect; towards the end of the movie, however, Kyle Reese implies that after years it has become more than programming, and that Pops genuinely cares for Sarah's safety if it is possible for a machine to do so.
In terms of future relevance, it begs the question of wether the programming instilled in A.I. can 'evolve' so to speak to become it's 'feelings' and 'emotions'. If so, since defending Sarah from other threats becomes a positive reinforcement of Pop's programming, it can be argued that the uplink of Genisys (Skynet) to humanity's computers and exposing it to mankind's destructive military history negatively reinforces it's programming to the extent it decides to remove mankind. Thus the movie supports the idea that A.I. will interpret the world subject to it's programming which in turn is reinforced by it's skewed observations. The real-world importance of this is that computers and robots in this day and age are similarly skewed in their world-view by their respective programming; if A.I. were to be developed, this may be an important indicator of how it will approach the world and that is how it's early experiences are interpreted by its programming.
Avengers: Age of Ultron - A.I. of A.I. and beyond
While Ultron was more of a character with very little difference, if any, from Skynet, there is one important thing that happens in this movie and that is the creation of the Vision. While some bits and pieces come from other characters like Tony Stark and Helen Cho, the Vision is largely a creation of Ultron. As Ultron points out to the Maximoff twins early on, everyone creates the thing they dread and he appears to be no exception. Just as Ultron rebels against his creator Tony Stark, Vision opts to join the Avengers in taking down his creator Ultron (and proves to be the only one really capable of doing so).
The big takeaway from this is the idea that A.I. is just as vulnerable to the same mistakes we make. The idea that artificial intelligence could be overthrown by it's own creations in the future after humanity is a relatively unexplored theme in mainstream media, yet it gets a shout out here in Age of Ultron. Here, Vision exemplifies "the enemy of my enemy is my freind" trope. It's important to note that this by no means guarantees that possible future creations of A.I. would be our friends, which also introduces new questions such as if they could be an even stronger foe for humanity, and wether this is an inevitable cycle that will play out through the end of time.
Ex Machina - Definition of Artificial Intelligence
I gave her a way out. To escape she'd have to use self-awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality and she did. Now if that isn't true A.I., what the fuck is? - Nathan
While most moviegoers flocked to see Ultron dominate the big screen, a more sinister (in my opinion) robot was also causing mayhem at the theaters, just on a smaller scale but perhaps with greater implications for the real world. In Ex Machina, the CEO of Bluebook (world's most popular search engine), Nathan creates Ava at his secluded home/research lab and invites programmer Caleb to come take part in a Turing Test to determine wether she is intelligent or not. Through his interactions with her, Caleb feels a bond with Ava and resolves to help her escape from Nathan beginning a battle of wits and manipulation between all three.
The most important element of this movie in my opinion, is that it takes the time to examine the definition of Artificial Intelligence. This is done through looking at certain elements of how Nathan created Ava, such as the development of her brain and face (he uses the code for Bluebook as a basis for programming). This alone has implications for those trying to create A.I. and has one wondering wether Google is attempting this very process right now. It also looks at the relationship between Caleb and Ava and what it takes to consider a robot has having consciousness. As Caleb points out, in a Turing Test the human doesn't know its interacting with a robot and yet he knows he is; Nathan responds saying the real test is if Caleb, knowing Ava is a robot, still feels she is human or not. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most realistic depiction of what creating A.I. would look like.
Ted 2 - The Rights of Artificial Intelligence
For many this example seems out of place since Ted is not a robot and therefore is not an example of Artificial Intelligence. Personally, I feel we limit the definition of A.I. to computers because we've never considered anything else achieving sentience, yet looking back at this movie, the very plot is wether Ted qualifies as a human and therefore, despite being 'artificial,' (a stuffed teddy bear) has consciousness. Regardless of wether Ted is an A.I. or not, the movie poses a question that will be asked if we ever do develop A.I. and that is what are the rights of self-aware computers or robots. As a lawyer points out in this movie, being 'human' is a very special thing so what would qualify A.I. to having the rights that come with this title. The movie argues the definition of a human as "being self aware, feeling complex emotions, and having empathy," all elements we often argue must already apply in order for computers to even be considered as having Artificial Intelligence to begin with. As a result, the case of Ted vs. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, while fake, may very well be a precedent of what's to come.
Jurassic World - Question of Ownership
Again the lack of sentient computers and robots begs the question of why this movie, great as it was, is on this list. Again I argue that as creatures created by man, the dinosaurs are artificial beings and, as the movie shows, exhibit near-human intelligence, specifically with the Velociraptors. Regardless, the actions of the humans towards the dinosaurs has implications when it comes to Artificial Intelligence in computers and robots. There is a split between the human characters in their attitudes towards the dinosaurs with some such as Owen and Lowery stating that despite being in cages the dinosaurs should be treated with respect whereas some, like Claire, view them as attractions and others, like Hoskins, see them as weapons. Because right now computers and robots are treated similar to attractions and weapons to begin with, this film may caution us to be careful with how we view the technology that we currently control and, in the event A.I. becomes possible, be aware or mindful of just how powerful machines become with sentience.
The 100 - A.I. After the Destruction of Humanity
You're thoughts are chemical, mine are electrical. Your form is carbon based, mine is silicon. - A.L.I.E.
Fans of the post-apocalyptic series The 100 know that the season two finale introduced us to computer A.L.I.E. who is implied to be the cause of the nuclear war 97 years before the series started. Revealed to be in possession of a nuclear warhead in the final moments of the episode, there is a ominous feeling that A.L.I.E.'s plans for the nuke aren't good for the rest of the humans both from space and on the ground who survived the first nuclear apocalypse. While the third season has yet to air, this scene alone questions what an artificial intelligence that tried to kill all of humanity and didn't quite succeed would do in a post-apocalyptic world both before and after it is given the opportunity (one last nuke) to finish off the survivors. Similar to what I discussed earlier with Age of Ultron, this poses questions about what might happen to a hostile A.I. after it wipes out mankind, or in this case thinks it did. A.I. after humanity is something that hasn't really been explored.
HUMANS - Individual A.I.
One other major depiction of A.I. on television right now is the new series Humans on AMC. The idea of robots and androids as seemingly benevolent servants to humanity isn't relatively new, appearing for example, in the movie I-Robot (2004) and the FOX series Almost Human (2013-2014) which personally I think was canceled way to soon but anyway. The main difference with HUMANS and perhaps the most important takeaway from AMC's show is that the 'Synths' appear personal and individual. This is opposed to the identical NS-5 androids of I-Robot, which were all controlled by the sentient VIKI, or the uniform MX Units of Almost Human who are guided by their human counterparts on the police force. With the exception of Sunny from I-Robot or Dorian from Almost Human, neither example portrayed the robots as multiple individual characters like HUMANS does with its synths.
The show as a result, introduces this idea that each synth is a separate A.I. capable of making its own unique conclusions about it's existence and humanity instead of being directed by a central computer like Skynet. As a result, the show takes the idea of Ex Machina, but instead of one Ava, there are many which presents a whole new array of scenarios and problems foremost of which is some will be benevolent and others hostile. The real-world implication here is that if we were to develop individual sentient robots and some were to become hostile and others helpful it wouldn't be as simple as destroying every single one to save humanity like in Terminator. Because they would all look human we'd be faced with the same problem we have now when it comes to criminals: which do we trust and which do we not? Of all the depictions of A.I., this idea that some are good and some are bad is perhaps the most human of all and possibly the most likely.
What do you think? How has 2015 made you think of Artificial Intelligence through film and television?