A scene from the climax of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Post by Nelson Cicchitto
Nowadays you can find AI in all sorts of movies. Whether you like action-adventure, sci-fi or even romantic comedies, artificial intelligences show up in these genres and play fascinating roles.
We’ve completed a study of the top AIs in film and came away with a new appreciation of how screenwrites are depicting this emerging technology. One of the most interesting things about AI is that their inherent nonhuman nature showcases what movie writers most believe to be true about humans.
Here’s our ranking of AIs’ appearances on the silver screen and what kind of statement the movie makes about our humanity. And below is our infographic rounding up the evil and good depictions of AI characters in the movies, from R2D2 and Data to Skynet.
HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – A deadly dose of humanity
Some individuals see HAL 9000 as one of the most quintessential evil AI. But what’s more interesting than its moral choices was HAL’s uncanny humanity. The humans in “2001: A Space Odyssey” act eerily calm and nonplussed. However, HAL 9000 exhibits humanlike traits such as jealousy and paranoia, which ultimately lead to the mission’s failure and astronauts’ deaths.
Ava (Ex Machina) – Making difficult choices
“Ex Machina” has only four characters: three humans and one AI. By the end of the movie, only Ava, the AI, makes it out alive. However, she does this by manipulating two of the humans and even leaving one of them for dead. If this was truly the only way for her to be free and live an uninhibited life, does it still make her evil? When it’s an AI asking the question, the answer sometimes seems a little more uncertain.
VIKI (I, Robot) – Logical but heartless
Following in the steps of HAL 9000, VIKI is a hyperintelligent robotic core that decides to kill certain humans to try and keep humanity alive for longer. This is a classic moral dilemma: Is it all right to kill someone, even an innocent person, if by killing them you make the world a better place? Plenty of human characters could benefit from the same hard thinking.
R2-D2 (Star Wars) – Saying a lot without words
R2-D2 is one of the most beloved and iconic “Star Wars” characters in the entire franchise. But on the surface, the robot’s popularity is somewhat baffling. After all, it never utters a single line of dialogue, and its character design isn’t even humanoid. Why, then, is it such a beloved part of the franchise? Quite simply, R2-D2 oozes with charm and empathy. George Lucas didn’t have to create a character with snappy dialogue or a cool design — he just had to make one that tugged at people’s heartstrings.
Bender (Futurama) – Unlikeable likeability
OK, Bender is on TV, not from the movies. Still, there are all sorts of mixed-morality human characters on TV. Bender is very much one of those characters, except for the fact that he’s a robot. He’s rude, womanizing, mean and manipulative, but in some moments, he does seem to show genuine emotion. In fact, many of his negative traits are the reasons why audiences like him so much. With such a rich, humanlike character, does it even matter that he’s not really a human?
Every piece of a story showcases something about the screenwriters who wrote it. Next time you encounter an AI on screen, consider the story behind the story: Look at the tale on a meta level and learn from it rather than just watching it passively. Think about what the character represents and the message it’s sending rather than just the surface-level actions depicted on screen.
Who’s your favorite AI character from the movies, and why?
Nelson Cicchitto is CEO of Avatier Corp., a cloud identity management provider. He’s also an avid movie fan.