The titan Prometheus, who stole the fire of gods for humankind, was chained to a rock in mount Caucasus for eternity, where his liver is fed upon daily (which regenerated due to his immortality) by an eagle. Similarly, human history is full of Prometheus-like personalities whose quest for knowledge transgressed boundaries erected by dogmas and superstitions. But 'playing God' was often frowned upon by unambiguous moral parables in literature and cinema. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), humans were repeatedly warned of a dystopian future where robots would rise up to annihilate their masters. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written long before the concept of A.I. or its related dark stories came into play. Yet the fascinating novel warned us of the perils of creating artificial life that lacks the emotionality and intuition of human life. Nevertheless, human understanding of science kept growing manifold to make the bizarre dream-logic of Mary Shelley’s tale into a palpable reality.
In 1942, prolific and popular science-fiction author Isaac Asimov coined ‘The Three Laws of Robotics ‘, forging the pivotal themes for robotic or AI-based fiction. The three laws referred to in numerous books and movies also went on to generate impact upon understanding the ethics of Artificial intelligence. Long before Asimov’s laws, visionary German film-maker Fritz Lang designed the robotic Maria (played by Brigitte Helm) for his ground-breaking expressionist sci-fi Metropolis (1927). The film showcased a semi-utopia where human workers of the underground are stuck in a painful routine in order to ensure that everything above ground is perfect. Furthermore, to maintain the immaculate quality of the Metropolis, the robotic Maria is programmed to repress any societal uprising. Lang’s masterful compositions and rich environment detail naturally served as an inspiration for generations of film-makers.
While the depiction of AI in 21st century cinema isn’t as vituperative as the earlier works, the fear of artificial intelligence’s influence on the community is still a very hot topic. Hence this following remarkable infographic from Brian Thomas of Enlightened Digital on the history of cinematic representation of AI, I reckon will serve as a fine introductory point to broach on this vital subject matter:
|Thanks to Brian Thomas, (Enlightened-Digital) for the intriguing inforgraphic on A.I. in the Movies|
In films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), AI was shown to serve and protect mankind. In Kubrick’s masterpiece, however, the spaceship operating system known as HAL 900 comes to the conclusion that it can properly serve humans by only taking control of them. The quietly menacing red-eye of HAL 900 depicts what the AI considers as an easy solution when burdened with a paradox or conflict: to get rid of disobedient humans. Gradually, the AI turned from being robotic to anthropomorphic. In George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ franchise, AIs served as good companions to humans and to each other. In the Terminator and The Matrix Franchise, artificial intelligence joined forces to authoritatively control humans and even their reality. However, Steven Spielberg’s 2001 sci-fi drama ‘Artificial Intelligence’ was a game changer in cinema’s portrayal of humanoid robots. This time viewers were emotionally attuned to anguish and yearnings of an AI kid searching his mother.
Recent depictions of AI have been increasingly ambiguous. Alex Garland’s low-budget sci-fi Ex Machina (2014) establishes the inevitability of A.I. breaking its shackles placed by the self-centered mankind. Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) in Ex-Machina feels more alive than her human counterparts, although like humans she manipulates, lies and makes survival her topmost priority. Similarly, in HBO series ‘WestWorld’ ‘humanoid robot’ hosts are designed as objects to show humans a good time in a futuristic theme park. But when the robots crave for freedom devastation follows. Movies like Her (2013), Robot and Frank (2012), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), and the recent pulpy action sci-fi Upgrade (2018) had begun to talk of co-existence as the differences (physical and emotional) separating humans from android are shown to be blurred. This exhibits the way forward to futuristic portrayal of A.I. story. Rather than pit malevolent A.I. against persecuted humans and vice-versa, the A.I. in the movies are becoming equivocal and three-dimensional characters.