Mankind’s proclivity towards paralyzing fear of its own creations hasn’t escaped the profiteering tendrils of Hollywood. From Edison Studios’ 1910 adaptation of Frankenstein, we’ve been privy to film versions of the “creation destroys creator” trope. The digital age has made the antagonist more chillingly real – with computers having become ubiquitous in all facets of life – but the same paranoia still lingers.
This fear of computers is matched only by our curiosity of their eventual capabilities, and their presence on film, as both friend and foe, has become as common as their place in our everyday lives.
Sadly, not all cinematic computers are supremely capable. Whether in reasoning or execution, some of them have been embarrassingly incompetent; we’re talking Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor to your high school calculator’s Al Borland.
Film: This Island Earth
Appearing in the classic science fiction film This Island Earth (as spoofed in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie), the Interocitor is a computer of alien design that, as you may expect, is ridiculously advanced. Its jack-of-all-trades design makes it useful as everything from a communications device to an energy weapon. The character Dr. Cal Meacham even quips, “There’s no limit to what it could do. Laying a four lane highway at the rate of a mile a minute would be a cinch.”
So what’s the problem? According to the Interocitor instruction manual (yes, I’m serious), no component can be replaced. Wait, what? The most advanced technology the human race has ever encountered is incapable of being upgraded? That’s like having a recipe for the perfect bread, with the caveat that it’ll disintegrate when in contact with peanut butter (read: it’s useless).
Oh, wait second! I get it. It’s just an Apple product.
As if Stealth was not already offensive enough for its egregious tokenizing and the insulting implication that its audience could possibly be stupid enough to find it entertaining, it also simultaneously pisses on the graves of Alan Turing and Isaac Asimov in its spectacularly nonsensical portrayal of artificial intelligence.
EDI, or “Extreme Deep Invader” (oh, grow up, will you?), is an impressive artificially intelligent pilot that could change the face of warfare. Instead of human pilots bombing civilians on foreign soil, we’ll now have machines bombing civilians on foreign soil, which makes it okay. As expected, EDI initially seems perfect for the job, doing everything a human pilot can do, but far more efficiently. Unfortunately, this includes going completely bat-shit insane.
After being struck by lightning, EDI becomes self-aware… and nuts. This plot device may have worked for Mary Shelley back in the nineteenth century, but today it just won’t fly (excuse the pun). Anyway, unlike humans in the military who, after going mad, just spend their lives on street corners lashing out at random passers by, EDI attempts to trigger World War 3, then ends up deliberately sacrificing itself to clean up the mess it made in the first place. How logical.
Film: Demon Seed
Proteus is an artificial intelligence (aren’t they all?) that becomes rogue (as usual) and decides that it wants something ridiculously inane, no matter how many corpses it must climb over to get it.
In this case, Proteus – which contains the sum of all human knowledge – decides that it wants to be “alive” in a biological sense. Instead of an eternal life of prestige and respect as the world’s greatest computer, it wants to go through the typical human life cycle of zero bladder control, awkwardness, angst, misery, and finally back to loss of bladder control before an undignified death. Doesn’t sound very fucking smart to me.
Proteus kidnaps the wife of its creator by trapping her inside her entirely computerized home. It then proceeds to use her cells to manufacture an unholy collection of robo-zygotes with which to impregnate her. It’s all very ugly, and let’s just say that an abortion would require little more than an industrial electromagnet.
In the end, however, a creepily voiced, megalomaniacal baby emerges from Proteus’ incubator in the first ever live-action portrayal of Stewie Griffin.
In a role tailor-made for Kate Jackson, she plays a computer in this awful TV movie.
A scientist decides to live the fantasy of every teenage hacker who has yet to know the touch of a woman: he reprograms his computer with the personality of a girl, which then falls completely, utterly, obsessively in love with him. This sounds great, right? You sidestep the dating game entirely and go straight to living with a girl who doesn’t get inconveniently timed headaches, doesn’t expect you to live up to her father, nor balloons physically following the obligatory “honeymoon period”. Furthermore, she probably has a volume control, which I personally believe would improve the quality of any relationship when installed on a woman.
Sadly, things don’t work out and the scientist goes back to his estranged wife. At this point things go from great to not-so-great as Lucy begins to act like a real jilted ex-lover and turns murderous.
Could our protagonist not have sidestepped this whole problem by coding an “open relationship” subroutine for Lucy? Oh, well. We live and learn.
Film: You’re kidding, right?
You know the story, so I won’t rehash it. And if you’ve never seen The Matrix, boy are you on the wrong site!
As with all films that attain cult-like levels of popularity, most aspects of The Matrix have been criticized at some point. One annoyance that is often overlooked, though, is the competence of the AI behind the world of the matrix itself. The collective consciousness that makes up the entirety of the machine population, both inside the matrix and in the “real” world.
As any engineer will tell you, the fact is that bioelectric power is so inefficient compared to solar power that one large solar panel will generate the same amount of power as the entire harvested human race. I know what you’re thinking: The humans scorched the skies in an attempt to cut off the machines’ access to the sun, which precipitated the use of “human batteries” in the first place. Good point, but in Revolutions we see Neo and Trinity pilot a ship above the level of the clouds, only to be greeted by a beautiful clear sky and beaming sun. Would it not still be much easier for the machines simply to wipe out the human race entirely, and build – oh, I don’t know – elevated solar panels above cloud level? Or better yet, orbiting panels that concentrate energy into ground-based refineries. To a computerized consciousness capable of crafting an entire persistent artificial world, this should be a cakewalk.
Sadly, the matrix – just like every other computer system that decides to take over the world – is plagued by the Achilles’ heel of incompetence.