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6 Films That Weren't Completely Stupid About Artificial Intelligence

You see robots in the movies all the time. But how often do they actually tell you something about AI?

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1. Ava, Ex Machina

Alex Garland's new film Ex Machina is the story of Ava, an artificial intelligence trapped in a remote laboratory by her creator. "Ava is the creation of self-absorbed genius billionaire Nathan Bates," says Dr Adam Rutherford, the film's science adviser. "Ava's AI is drawn from every interaction on the internet, via Bates' Google-esque search engine, the BlueBook."The film is based around the "imitation game", the test developed by Alan Turing which said that if a machine could imitate human conversation well enough to fool another human, that would be a good yardstick for determining whether it was self-aware or not. The film also addresses other philosophical conundrums around AI, including "Mary's room", a thought experiment by the philosopher Frank Jackson that asks what it means to "know" something.
Universal / Via exmachinamovie.co.uk

Alex Garland's new film Ex Machina is the story of Ava, an artificial intelligence trapped in a remote laboratory by her creator. "Ava is the creation of self-absorbed genius billionaire Nathan Bates," says Dr Adam Rutherford, the film's science adviser. "Ava's AI is drawn from every interaction on the internet, via Bates' Google-esque search engine, the BlueBook."

The film is based around the "imitation game", the test developed by Alan Turing which said that if a machine could imitate human conversation well enough to fool another human, that would be a good yardstick for determining whether it was self-aware or not. The film also addresses other philosophical conundrums around AI, including "Mary's room", a thought experiment by the philosopher Frank Jackson that asks what it means to "know" something.

2. HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey

As Dave Bowman and Frank Poole fly to Jupiter (or Saturn, if you're a fan of the original book), their ship, the Discovery, is run by an AI called HAL, short for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer". Despite them professing a fondness for HAL, it inevitably starts to malfunction, and in the traditional style of AIs, decides to kill the crew to keep the mission going.Rutherford points out that Arthur C. Clarke, the author of the book, was well versed in the early history of computing and artificial intelligence. Not only does Poole play HAL at chess (HAL wins easily), but when Bowman later damages the computer to degrade it to a lower state of consciousness, HAL sings "Daisy Bell" – the first song ever sung by a computer, a Bell Labs speech synthesis machine in 1962.
MGM / Via 1989nineteeneightynine.wordpress.com

As Dave Bowman and Frank Poole fly to Jupiter (or Saturn, if you're a fan of the original book), their ship, the Discovery, is run by an AI called HAL, short for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer". Despite them professing a fondness for HAL, it inevitably starts to malfunction, and in the traditional style of AIs, decides to kill the crew to keep the mission going.

Rutherford points out that Arthur C. Clarke, the author of the book, was well versed in the early history of computing and artificial intelligence. Not only does Poole play HAL at chess (HAL wins easily), but when Bowman later damages the computer to degrade it to a lower state of consciousness, HAL sings "Daisy Bell" – the first song ever sung by a computer, a Bell Labs speech synthesis machine in 1962.

3. The Tyrell Nexus replicants, Blade Runner

Pris, Zhora, and Roy Batty, the "replicants" whom Harrison Ford's Decker is hunting, are indistinguishable from humans in every way – except under empathy and compassion tests. The replicants only live for four years, and so, goes the film's theory, have the experience required to develop the empathic reactions grown humans have. "The whole theme of experience is central to what it means to have consciousness," says Rutherford. The most famous moment in the film is the dying "tears in rain" monologue from Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. "Batty's glorious final words are describing the so-called hard problem of consciousness," says Rutherford. That is: Why do we experience anything at all? And if a machine told us that it was experiencing things, how could we believe it?
Warner Bros / Via pixgood.com

Pris, Zhora, and Roy Batty, the "replicants" whom Harrison Ford's Decker is hunting, are indistinguishable from humans in every way – except under empathy and compassion tests. The replicants only live for four years, and so, goes the film's theory, have the experience required to develop the empathic reactions grown humans have. "The whole theme of experience is central to what it means to have consciousness," says Rutherford.

The most famous moment in the film is the dying "tears in rain" monologue from Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. "Batty's glorious final words are describing the so-called hard problem of consciousness," says Rutherford. That is: Why do we experience anything at all? And if a machine told us that it was experiencing things, how could we believe it?

4. Joshua, WarGames

In which a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick plays David Lightman, a "computer whizzkid" ("back when being a computer whizzkid was still a thing", as Rutherford says). Lightman accidentally hacks into a Department of Defense mainframe and almost triggers a nuclear war by playing what he thinks is a simple war strategy game with an AI called Joshua.In his recent book Superintelligence, the philosopher Nick Bostrom explains that an artificial intelligence might not have the same goals we have – it might, for instance, be programmed to build as many paperclips as it possibly could. And that would be dangerous in its own right, because it might then, say, turn all the matter in the solar system, humans included, into paperclips.Joshua has no distinction between simulation and reality, and is programmed to win games – and it has no concept of "futility", of some games being unwinnable, as all-out nuclear war would be, so is prepared to do anything to achieve that goal. It takes being taught to play noughts and crosses ("tic tac toe") before the AI realises that "the only winning move is not to play".
United Artists / Via imdb.com

In which a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick plays David Lightman, a "computer whizzkid" ("back when being a computer whizzkid was still a thing", as Rutherford says). Lightman accidentally hacks into a Department of Defense mainframe and almost triggers a nuclear war by playing what he thinks is a simple war strategy game with an AI called Joshua.

In his recent book Superintelligence, the philosopher Nick Bostrom explains that an artificial intelligence might not have the same goals we have – it might, for instance, be programmed to build as many paperclips as it possibly could. And that would be dangerous in its own right, because it might then, say, turn all the matter in the solar system, humans included, into paperclips.

Joshua has no distinction between simulation and reality, and is programmed to win games – and it has no concept of "futility", of some games being unwinnable, as all-out nuclear war would be, so is prepared to do anything to achieve that goal. It takes being taught to play noughts and crosses ("tic tac toe") before the AI realises that "the only winning move is not to play".

5. Rossum’s Universal Robots, R.U.R.

Not a movie, but nonetheless the granddaddy of "robot apocalypse" stories: a Czech play by Karel Čapek, first published in 1920. "Notable for introducing the word 'robot' to English, from the Czech robota, meaning slave," says Rutherford. "Also notable for setting the cinematic tone of robotic revolt: They wipe out humanity by the end of act three."
Public domain / Via en.wikipedia.org

Not a movie, but nonetheless the granddaddy of "robot apocalypse" stories: a Czech play by Karel Čapek, first published in 1920. "Notable for introducing the word 'robot' to English, from the Czech robota, meaning slave," says Rutherford. "Also notable for setting the cinematic tone of robotic revolt: They wipe out humanity by the end of act three."

6. Marvin the Paranoid Android, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"We all assume that artificial intelligences with human-level consciousness will be super smart, and possibly with psychopathic tendencies," says Rutherford. "But loads of human-level humans are just miserable." No one, apart from the great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, seems to have considered the possibility that AIs will simply be bored and depressed and understimulated. Marvin's planet-sized intellect is entirely wasted in jobs such as escorting people around and standing guard.
BBC / Via bbcamerica.com

"We all assume that artificial intelligences with human-level consciousness will be super smart, and possibly with psychopathic tendencies," says Rutherford. "But loads of human-level humans are just miserable." No one, apart from the great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, seems to have considered the possibility that AIs will simply be bored and depressed and understimulated. Marvin's planet-sized intellect is entirely wasted in jobs such as escorting people around and standing guard.