Let’s talk AI — The next gen Hollywood villain

A word of warning: be cautious using both titlecase and san-serif fonts when discussing AI, as in artificial intelligence. Because otherwise people named Al are going to start getting a really bad rap in the near future.

And it’s nothing against the Alans and Alberts and Alexanders of the world, but there’s a strong case to be made against AI — and not just in fiction. After all, the greatest mind of our generation Stephen Hawking has made some pretty bold predictions about AI leading to the end of the human race. If anything this should come as somewhat of a reassurance that Hawking’s computer itself isn’t self-aware—thank goodness—especially since dozens of other scientists have come out with similar warnings.

Are these warnings legitimate? Probably not, at least for the scientists or laymen of the world. AI is something of a near impossibility in many respects (as written up wonderfully by Scientific American here) but the seeds have already been planted for something much more influential.


Just yesterday, 20th Century Fox and IBM collaborated on a (truly) brilliant bit of cross-promotion with a trailer for the upcoming “AI horror thriller” Morgan. Talk about a trippy blend of sci-fi and sci-fact — getting the most advanced AI of present day to splice together a teaser for AI’s dramatic, fictional, futuristic downfall.

If Watson didn’t already have ideas of going rogue… well we sure know he does now.

But let’s talk about the villain in Morgan, or more so, the new wave AI villain that we’re seeing pop up in movies all over the place. Ex Machina and Age of Ultron, among plenty others just this past year, have begun a new era of Hollywood nefariousness — computers gone rogue. It’s nothing new, actually, just look back at The Matrix or I, Robot (the book, or the movie too, no judgement I suppose) and you can see that robots-turned-baddies have always been in the minds’ eye of science fiction writers.

But I foresee this becoming much, much more common in the years to come. Mainly for two reasons:

Firstly, AI is becoming much more relevant to actual science. Twenty five years ago at the release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (the best Terminator movie) James Cameron wouldn’t have even dreamed of getting a real-life AI to cut together his latest trailer. Today, this is real life. Today, humans can connect with and understand the impacts of AI in our everyday life.

But secondly, and most interestingly, I think the bank of Hollywood villains is growing slimmer and slimmer. Hollywood loves going through eras of “classic” baddies in action movies — our greatest action stars fought the Nazis throughout the 70’s and 80’s, then of course the Russians throughout the 90’s, and today it’s the Middle East. Hollywood audiences like seeing people on screen they can root against, and this is hugely problematic when these ethic and racial stereotypes represent real groups of people in the world, or in history.

I’m not opposed to the latest action star fighting against Nazis or ISIS, but it becomes a dangerous line for writers to play with. These groups risk stepping on prejudice that turns films into more of a political statement than many writers and directors feel comfortable touching.

But AI? Well that’s an evil that’s perfectly safe.

Think about it — this is a baddie that never has, and never will be, human. It’s not a country on Earth, it’s not a radical hate group, it’s just… wires and circuitry and malevolence. You could say the same about zombies or aliens, but while these are elements of pure fiction and fantasy, AI comes dangerously close to real.

So buckle up, people. I for one welcome our new AI bad guys. Fingers crossed that films like Morgan can live up to the hype.

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