How is AI portrayed in cinema? This week, Jon, Nina and Dilpreet go to the movies, discussing the role of AI in some of Western cinema’s most interesting takes on Artificial Intelligence.
While there are many films with some kind of AI character in them, few have really tackled issues around human and AI interaction at a deep level. In the vast majority of films, non-human intelligences are almost universally dystopian or destructive. What other possibilities are there when we speculate on human-AI relationships?
We look specifically at three major “AI” films. First is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps one of the greatest and most epic science fiction films ever made. Released in 1968, and based on a novel by Author C. Clarke, the main AI is HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer - according to Wikipedia) a sentient computer manifest only through a circular camera lens and speaker with the text “HAL 9000” above it. Of course, things do not go well for HAL or the spaceship’s crew and by the end of the film, HAL has been responsible for the murder of most of the crew and is shut down (slowly regressing its sentience) by the only surviving crew member, Dave Bowman. How realistic are HAL’s actions by today’s standards?
The next film — after a long AI winter — is Spike Jonze’ 2013 drama Her. Set in the “near future”, the AI is manifest in the form of a virtual assistant, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The film depicts a relationship between a human (Theodore) and an AI (Samantha). The film is unusual in that it focuses on emotional relationships between people and artificial intelligence, rather than the typical rational/emotional combativeness of most films with an AI protagonist.
The final film we look at is Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, a sci-fi psychological thriller about a programmer (Caleb) who is invited by his CEO (Nathan) to administer the Turing test to an artificially intelligent humanoid robot (Ava). As usual, it all goes wrong when the humans discover they’re being manipulated by the AI, who by the end of the film has escaped and merged into crowds of a big city.
We also briefly switch from films about AI or with lead AI characters, to films made by AI, most notably, Sunspring, an experimental short science fiction film written by a neural network. You can watch the film on youtube.
Listen to the podcast to hear what our team thinks about AI at the movies.
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