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Artificial intelligence touches many aspects of our lives, and innovators constantly look for additional ways to improve or implement the technology. From self-driving cars, predictive diagnosis, and business intelligence, to video games and newsfeed algorithms, AI powers outcomes and the decision-making producing them. There are questions to be answered regarding the shorter-term impact of AI as well as debate to be had surrounding the future implications of the technology. Through the years, films have played their part in the popular discourse contemplating how a more advanced artificial intelligence may behave and where it could bring us. Their stories vary in the embodiment of the AI as well as how it acts towards humans, but they all open up the imagination to possibilities one may consider as we continue down the pathway of creating intelligence.
Many individuals hold negative or fearful views towards advanced AI. They might stem from fret regarding AI’s potential undesirable treatment of humans and its theoretical ability to enact such treatment with relative ease. Plenty of films have planted seeds for these sentiments as well as reinforced them with tales showcasing the events to occur if such fears do come to fruition. Movies like The Terminator, The Matrix, and Avengers: Age of Ultron bring viewers on journeys where AI aims to exploit or destroy humanity. In The Terminator, Skynet, an AI comparable to a super-advanced cloud computing neural network, aims to secure its continued existence. Due to previous attempts by humans to end it once it became self-aware, Skynet operates under the assumption of human threat and employs war machines and terminators to address it. This artificial intelligence most famously directs The Terminator, another AI, to kill the mother of a future individual that is to lead the resistance against the machines.
After a similar human-machine war scenario, The Matrix showcases AI that creates a simulated reality experienced by human survivors as they are held in vats that harvest their energy for the machines. Such a situation is as undesirable as the last, and both cases conjure thoughts directed at AI’s ability to conduct self-aware attacks on humans in the pursuit of self-preservation. One may call it the pursuit of survival. Others fear that AI might find reasons to eliminate humans based on desires or programming to rid the universe of error or to create peace — by removing natural, inherently-flawed life. This is the case in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Initially developed as a peacekeeping program by Tony Stark, this AI comes to deem humanity as the essential threat to earth and thus acts on its objective by attempting to eliminate humans. This theme, where an AI assesses human value from a scope much further beyond that which we’d feel comfortable, comes up a lot in the movies. 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ex-Machina provide just a couple additional examples of AI that sacrifices humans in pursuit of what is computes to be the greater good.
With this said, AI showcased in movies doesn’t always act on the basis of programming that clashes with human desires. In Bicentennial Man and Wall-E, artificial intelligence actually desires to empathize with humans. Andrew, the AI in Bicentennial Man, demonstrates emotion that drives it to behave in benevolent ways as it acts on love and curiosity. The same goes for Wall-E as it attempts to be helpful to humans and acts on desires when it meets Eve. With this said, questions still clearly remain as to whether programming can create actual emotion. Regardless, these benevolent instances of AI in movies may provide hope as to the future of the technology that is bound to interact with us more as time goes on. We must direct thoughts, conversation, and reasoned action towards these important developments in order to make sure the interactions continue to be positive ones. In addition to the many movies that showcase AI, there are plenty of online resources useful for diving into discussions on this technology and its theoretical impacts — good and bad. Just look around. This subject is as important as it is entertaining.