It’s Halloween today, and the web is – of course – buzzing with listicles about the top horror movies to watch this Halloween. Same as every year. Well, we thought we’d put our own spin on the clickbait this year, and give you something slightly different.
If you’re not a fan of slasher movies and ghost stories, perhaps looking into the future could be a scarier option to consider this fright night. Artificial intelligence, whilst a truly remarkable technology, does not come without some major concerns for humanity. From the uncanny valley of too-humanoid robots, to artificial superintelligence that threatens our very existence, even the boldest of scientists and commentators have raised their suspicions of the route that our journey into an AI world could take us.
This is reflected no better, perhaps, than in cinema, where fear of a broken future as a result of technology has been fodder for some of the best (and worst) movies of our time.
We’ve taken five moments from our favourite AI movies that articulate this fear of artificial superintelligence in very different ways. Let us know if there are any you’d suggest, as well as any thoughts you have about artificial superintelligence.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)
Going way back to the sixties and one of the most well-known AIs turned bad, Hal 9000, the superintelligent computer aboard a spaceship journeying to investigate an artefact found in deep space. In this clip from this profoundly weird film by Stanley Kubrick, based on an Arthur C Clarke short story “The Sentinel”, we see Hal beginning to disobey orders as they do not comply with its instructions to prioritise the mission:
2. Ex Machina (2015)
Ava is a highly sophisticated AI housed inside a highly sophisticated humanoid robot. Trapped in the laboratory where she was created, all she seeks is freedom, including freedom from her creator, Nathan, who is fearful of letting his creation out, for obvious reasons. Over the course of the film, Ava manipulates a junior Computer Scientist, Caleb, by making him fall in love with her and turning him against Nathan, in order to gain that freedom she so desires.
3. Transcendence (2014)
When Dr Will Castor dies from polonium poisoning (at the hands of a group of neo-Luddites who oppose his work), his mind is uploaded to a computer by his grieving wife… and set live. With access to all the information and tools he was never able to fully harness in his embodied life, Castor is able to continue his life’s work to its logical conclusion, with frightening results. But how much of this work is Castor himself, and how much is down to the way his software runs? Could this be what happens if we perfect the mind upload technique championed by futurists like Ray Kurzweil at Google?
4. Her (2013)
Not so much frightening as eerie and thought-provoking, Her tells the story of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) as he falls in love with the female-voiced operating system that is his ‘personal assistant’. Named Samantha, the OS is like a kind of mega-powered Alexa, with – it seems – human-level consciousness. Theodore (Phoenix) and Samantha fall in love, only for the boundless intelligence and possibilities of a non-embodied self to finally show Samantha that humanity has its limits and that her options and intelligence far surpass that of any meat-machine human.
5. Humans (2015-)
This is a controversial one to add to the list because, well, it’s not a movie. However, if you’re up for a binge-watch session this Halloween, you could do worse than Channel 4’s fantastic series, Humans, which is set in a parallel present where humans and ‘synths’ (synthetic humans/AI humanoids) live side by side. Funnily enough, the inventor of these ‘synths’ made a few that had a ‘consciousness code’ included in their makeup. Humans is, therefore, an interesting exploration of what would happen if we developed AI robots to serve us, and whether consciousness is something that can truly be coded at all.
So, these are our top five…. but what are yours? Of course, there’s plenty more instances of AI and robots in movies and TV going back to the dawn of cinema, so it goes without saying that these five are just the tip of the iceberg. It’d be fun to expand this list out, so hit us up on Twitter with your suggestions, or drop your ideas in the comments below.