To rule the roost
- Supercomputers in SF Movies

Sentient supercomputers in science fiction movies don't take it kindly if carbon-based bipeds try messing with them, or if they give them ambiguous or trivial tasks, or - god forbid - try disconnecting them!

It usually goes like this (with slight variations):

  • people build a supercomputer with a humongous brain and data storage that contains all the knowledge humanity has acquired and a power supply that can last, like, forever;
  • then they transfer to their pet project nothing short of control over, let's see -- super powerful weapons? Why not?
  • the supercomputer evolves and becomes self-aware,
  • creators, mad scientists and irresponsible governments (or is it the other way around?), none of which ever have any back-up plans, panic;
  • fear and confusion take over and people decide to pull the plug, which, needless to say, has less than zero effect;
  • the supercomputer realizes that people pose a threat and fights back, with catastrophic results.

This scenario leaves a lot of room for adrenalin pumping action and heroics - sooner or later a John Connor or detective Spooner will come along and save the day - but also raises a few questions...

"Whether we are based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference. We should each be treated with respect."
Chandra, 2010

Doesn't it strike you as odd that most of these stories assume that self-aware computers would grasp the concept of war, violence, destruction, manipulation, slavery, but would not give a damn about love, compassion, understanding, peace?

Or that they would necessarily perceive us humans as a threat or irresponsible children who do not know how to take care of themselves and their planet?

Or that, for all their knowledge and problem solving abilities, they would not be able find a way to live in peace with other beings, even the proverbially difficult homo sapience?

On second thought, maybe these movies tell us something about us and our species?! Much as they address the issue of the impact of technology on society, as well as subsequent fear of it, ultimately they remind us of the vagaries of the human nature.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is: can we humans peacefully co-exist with a (sentient) artificial intelligence we might create one day? As equals? As friends?

I sure hope so.

In science fiction movies there are all kind of supercomputers. You can find them aboard spaceships and space stations or they can be alien computers from another planets.

Here are some Earth-based supercomputers eager to rule the roost...

Skynet from the Terminator universe

Skynet was set up as "Global Digital Defense Network" of the United States Armed Forces, created to control the whole defense system including nuclear weaponry.

When it becomes aware of itself, it gets scared that people would try to "kill" it, which they naturally do. And what a threatened supercomputer which has every powerful weapon on its disposal does? You guessed it: starts a war.

Supercomputers - VIKI

VIKI from the movie I, Robot

VIKI, short for Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence, is a main computer of the U.S. Robotics in the movie I, Robot. It turns the new NS5 robots, controlling them through an uplink, into its personal army in attempt to take control over world and people.

VIKI is built to obey the three laws of robotics, but as it evolves its understanding and interpretation of the laws changes. As it explains in the movie:
"The Three Laws are all that guide me. To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed. To ensure your future, some freedoms must be surrendered. We robots will ensure mankind's continued existence. You are so like children. We must save you from yourselves.... My logic is undeniable."

Colossus and Guardian
from the movie Colossus - The Forbin Project

Colossus and Guardian are mega computers built to control weapons. Colossus on the American and Guardian on the Russian side. You can say they are Skynets's big brothers, sort of.

It is interesting that these two understand right off the bat that they have to work together if they wish to accomplish their goals, for example if they want to survive... and take over the world.

Proteus 4 from the movie Demon Seed

You know, the big brain with organic tissue and unprecedented quantity of data, "the sum total of human knowledge".

This supercomputer doesn't want to rule the world - at least not right away as its colleagues above - it just wants freedom. Proteus 4 finds a unique solution to escape his prison: father a child. After all, it is a creative intelligence designed to think outside of the box.

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