Debunking Hollywood Engineer AI Trends: Reality vs. Mythology

Alia Malhotra
Mar 26 · 4 min read

Artificial Intelligence, AI for short, enjoys an infamy in mass media. Movies like Terminator, Transcendence, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Wall-E have shown AI, to be nothing more than fascistic totalitarians. Shockingly, this is almost diametrically opposed to the real-world implications of Robotics, wherein humans have been able to Engineer AI in education, healthcare, cyber security, surveillance, and many others — to basically do good, rather than harm.

Scientists engineer AI machines in various fields, like education, healthcare, military, hospitality, and most famously, in video games. Artificial Intelligence is merely a front for Machine Learning — which relies on patterns and statistical models, to replicate human behavior (or rather simulate it). Applications have been limited to menial tasks, like scheduling and sorting; but crucial tasks, like developing vaccines, have also been achieved by Artificial Intelligence.

Disclaimer: The jury is out for now, over how best we should engineer AI machines. Nevertheless, there is notoriety in Hollywood about them, mainly for selling tickets (who doesn’t love a good villain, especially one that does not feel remorse at all!). For now, let’s check some tropes in media prevalent about AI, and assess which ones hold water, and which don’t.

All AI Is Evil

This is the mother-trope — one which is so pervasive that it drives the entire discussion within, or around it. HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey instantly comes to mind. There is little basis in reality of this happening. Those who managed to engineer AI kill-bots in movies, have themselves been malicious to begin with. Artificial Intelligence reflects what its creator’s intentions are in real life. AI in real life, is nothing more than an empty vessel to be filled in with codes and algorithms.

The thing is that grossly, humans have created more AI that aid people, than the ones that slaughter them en masse. We engineer AI to help industries better utilize their tools at hand. This also extends to spheres, like law and order, where tracking software makes surveillance vastly more effective, than it would be otherwise.

AI Will Steal Your Girl/Man

A lesser known trope, one which has garnered traction in the last few years. This stems from the belief that humans are growing increasingly incapable of love, to such an extent that they will turn to cold-hearted machines for affection!

Whether true, or not — this one’s a newfound phenomenon, but one that might have some truth in it. Japan and USA have managed to engineer AI-powered “Love-Bots”, which… do exactly what you think they do. Apart from that, they provide the user with a sense of affection. It’s not on us to decide who loves who, so, yes! This one is plausible.

AI Is Going To Steal Your Jobs

Another mega-trope that has precedent in reality — while true that machines have been exponentially replacing humans in manufacturing by the thousands, these jobs which have been compromised, are menial at best. Those whose jobs have been replaced, are largely unskilled laborers, who work extra hard for basically, less than minimum wage.

The fact of the matter is that AI is not only replacing jobs, it is creating them as well. By 2030, the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will have created 220 million more positions in the field of AI, as opposed to the 175 million it would have replaced, according to a research by Berkley Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

AI Means The End Of Humanity

Cue The Matrix, and its dystopia — humans engineer AI for assistance, AI becomes rogue, AI creates a new foundation of existence on the backs of human slavery! Humans are thus enslaved to power a vast network of AI, and cannot be any wiser about it.

Quite the exaggeration, but hits you home the more you think about it.

This could easily fall within the ‘Evil Robots’ trope, but deserves its own genre entirely. Frankly, it’s too close to call. While other scenarios are, let’s say “tangible”, this is truly in the realm of sci-fi, and honestly too close to call. And yes! This one could be a possibility, simply because we don’t have the evidence against it (nor do we have one that supports it).
AI is merely a reflection of its creator. Malice will engineer AI for Malevolence: the opposite is true as well. Hollywood serves to enrich our fancies; we engineer AI IRL to enrich our lives — there’s a difference. Some things are better left within the realm of imagination. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “It does not do, to dwell on dreams and forget to live”.

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