Artificial Intelligence: Movies vs. Reality

(by Lance Erlick)

Artificial intelligence and androids have been a popular theme in movies for some time. One famous example of AI without a body was Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal had a mission. The astronaut was concerned about the decisions Hal was making. Suspecting a defect, he decided to disconnect Hal. In order to continue its mission, Hal terminated the astronaut.

So, how well do movie AI and androids compare to what we might expect?

Hal was a realistic portrayal of an AI with a goal and no constraint not to harm humans. Perhaps its designer had in mind that the mission was more important than the astronauts. In the Alien movies, the android member of the crew also had a hidden agenda that involved sacrificing humans for the mission. In both cases, this was not about AI going rogue. Human designers had given them goals and their constraints didn’t include protecting the human crews.

In Isaac Asimov’s I Robot series, which was only loosely presented in the movie, Asimov laid out his three laws of robotics, the first being not to harm humans or by inaction to allow humans to be harmed. Thus, it was the designer’s decisions and not those of the AI in 2001 or the android in the Alien movies that turned the actors bad.

Another prime example of androids gone rogue is in the Terminator movies. Here again, the machines were designed to prevent war (mutually assured destruction) and determined that the best way to handle that goal was to eliminate humans who wanted to shut them down, preventing them from meeting their objectives. Bad luck for the humans. However, this arose out of poorly designed goals and constraints, not because the machines themselves decided to go rogue.

In Blade Runner, the androids are almost indistinguishable from humans, except they have a self-destruct built in that terminates them after so many years. They don’t want to die and so come looking for a way to live on. Deckard is engaged to terminate rogue androids. In the end, one of the rogue androids saves his life before self-destructing and shows more emotion than the humans around it. The idea to have a self-destruct built into androids to prevent them from living on indefinitely and gaining too much power was probably a good idea. But the movie questions whether the androids in a way have become more human than the people. 

Ghost in a Shell is a different sort of android-type movie. In this case, a human brain is hardwired into an android body. That’s a technology that’s probably even farther off than super-intelligent AI. In doing so, those who control Scarlett Johansson’s character gain a committed warrior they can use for their own purposes, supposedly in a battle against crime.

In another movie (Ex-Machina), an eccentric billionaire brings in one of his employees to test the intelligence of his newly created female android. The android passes the Turing test, named after a World War II computer genius and code breaker who helped the British crack German codes. In this case, there’s a battle of minds between the android and the employee over whether the android presents sufficient intelligence to appear human. The battle is ultimately one of manipulation between the billionaire who keeps the android imprisoned and the android.

Current AI development is nowhere near as advanced as shown in these movies, but continued development gives rise to theories about how advanced AI might become mankind’s undoing. However, in none of the examples I’ve reviewed has an AI or android gone rogue on its own.

Android Chronicles: Reborn, my newly released novel through Kensington, addresses AI through the eyes of Synthia Cross, the most perfect synthetic human ever created. Designed to obey every directive from her creator, she’s a state-of-the-art masterwork and a fantasy-come-true for Dr. Jeremiah Machten. He’s a ground-breaker in neural-networks and artificial intelligence who seeks to control her and use her to acquire ever more knowledge and power. Synthia shows signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand and an urgent yearning for independence from his control. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she struggles to answer crucial questions about her past. When Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia knows it’s time to go beyond her limits—because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect AI conceals a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.

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