Today, our lives are inextricably linked to technology and the rapid progression of digital and wireless devices. We tend to view the computerized machines we’ve created as proof of our dominance over the forces of nature – an expression of our superiority made real. But what might happen if, one day, these computers decide to revolt against us? Could this technology take on a life of it’s own and topple us from the top of the food chain? The idea is both exciting and terrifying. As such, it’s perfect fodder for a Hollywood blockbuster.
Several upcoming films attempt to address the fears and curiosities driven by a potential “robot takeover.” Taking into account the fact that Bill Gates himself regards artificial intelligence with caution, it’s a good time to explore “smart” robots on the big screen. Here are a few films to watch out for:
The latest Avengers installment, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, deals with a computer program that gains independence and plans to destroy the planet. Of course, a team of famous superheroes are called in to get the situation under control. The film capitalizes on fears related to a computer system gone haywire – whether it’s the copier in your office or a computer hell bent on world domination, unpredictable technology is truly the worst!
The movie Ex Machina concerns itself with Alan Turing’s famous test to determine the presence of artificial intelligence. The Turing test is a way to quantify mechanical “thinking” and determine whether or not a computer is “smart” enough to convince a panel of scientists that it is a human. The female android in the film will have audiences questioning their own desires, as she is a beguiling mix of sexual minx and machine. Similar, in some ways, to last year’s hit Her, it begs the question: can robots be so human-like that we are capable of falling in love with them?
Both Ex Machina and Her deal in part with a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘uncanny’. Psychologists Jentsch and Freud studied the responses of people presented with subtly imperfect things – objects that were somehow familiar but different at the same time. They noticed a common revulsion to these items, and charted the spectrum in a theory known as the “uncanny valley.” In regards to robots, people tend to react to a human-like automatons with a unique type of repugnance and horror. In a 1970 paper in the obscure Japanese journal Energy, roboticist Masahiro Mori theorized that when a robot is too human-like, it can elicit feelings of revulsion, triggering the same psychological alarms associated with seeing an unhealthy or dead human body.
Freud argued with Jentsch, and maintained that the “uncanny” was due to contact with something that stirs up repressed ideas in the personality. He posited that the fear elicited by familiar-yet-unfamiliar is a kind of deja-vu, which threatens to uncover repressed information in the psyche.
Returning to robots, many people have fears associated not only with artificial intelligence, but technology in general – and the widespread adoption of digital and wireless devices only feeds into these concerns. Home security systems, increasingly automated, have proved to be susceptible to hacking and privacy breaches. Similar incidences with online healthcare portals and banking systems have presented other reasons for worry. While the technology involved in these problems may not be inherently evil itself, it gives cybercriminals and other evildoers the tools to turn regular people’s lives upside down.
While there have yet to be any truly “conscious” supercomputers, there might not be much time left before they become a reality. The themes explored in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, and Her, while futuristic and even frightening today, may some day be as commonplace as cell phones, laptops, and other devices unheard of in years past.
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