These are interesting times for science. Artificial intelligence gains ubiquity at an exponential rate, integrating into our daily lives with uneasy grace. We entrust phone bots with our decisions, let loose self-driving cars on roads, and willingly send
Skynet Google scouring through our personal data. Meanwhile, science has successfully engineered genes and developed brain-connected prosthesis.
As Frankenstein escapes the bastille of imagination, the line begins to blur. Machine has started to resemble man and man, machine. What then, does being human truly mean? Theology and science search for answers in the essence of souls and freewill. Yet more philosophy than fact, the concept of consciousness remains out of our grasp.
While aware of AI’s thematic implications, few movies find the way to provoke thought on the subject. Critics often helm Blade Runner and Metropolis for their sophistication, but these are not all the cinematic universe has to give. After several recent ‘almost-there’s and ‘could-have-been’s (See: Morgan, Lucy or Transcendence), I decided to write about my favourite AI movies that give this matter some due reflection.
5. Ghost in the Shell (dir. Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
Exposition is the death knell of sci-fi, and Ghost in the Shell could have easily sauntered into the cyberpunk graveyard. But Mamoru Oshii’s acclaimed anime deserves all praise for portraying complex philosophy in accessible terms, echoing similar thoughtful themes behind William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
The insightful dialectic centres on cyborg agent Motoko Kusanagi’s mission to capture the elusive hacker The Puppet Master. The latter is revealed to be a sentient program plagued by existential doubt. Motoko reflects the machine’s disillusioned psyche, contemplating the meaning of humanity and questioning her own identity as a cybernetic being. Their encounter triggers an intriguing point of singularity, where Homo sapiens may start to mean as little as Neanderthals do.
4. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland, 2015)
All that privacy we relinquish to big tech giants and therefore, the minds behind them. What if just one acts upon his dangerous god complex? Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina conveys these modern anxieties through the manipulative dynamics between contemporary genius Nathan and unassuming programmer Caleb.
Having created a sentient machine he calls Ava, Nathan tasks Caleb to determine if his invention is capable of self-awareness. An ethical conundrum arises when Caleb discovers that Ava’s consciousness has been amassed from a sea of private social data – awkwardly enough, including his own erotic fantasies. The corporate mogul’s abuse of authority brings out a prudent fear of our modern world. In a time where we continue to give up privacy for convenience, chances are that we have been out of control for a long time.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (dir. James Cameron, 1991)
Action does not negate depth. If done well, the dreaded consequences of world destruction can provide explosive entertainment and invoke reasoned paranoia at the same time. Judgment Day stands out as a prime example. In its credible apocalyptic future, strong characterisation has us rooting for the Connors’ resistance against Skynet’s building omnipresence.
As machines become smarter, they grow inclined towards self-preservation. There is no gainsaying the inevitability of an elimination process. Bill Gates admits concern. Stephen Hawking warns that thinking machines can spell the end of mankind. Elon Musk calls them our biggest existential threat. It feels as if we are seconds away to the dystopia that James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd posited. Thank goodness we have T-800 on our side.
2. Her (dir. Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze’s Her may take on a surreal quality, but his vision does not stretch far from the truth. A co-dependent relationship with a sentient bot is not that far-fetched an idea, with our growing reliance on technologies for everyday motions. Besides, we have begun to redefine intimacy, trading spoken words for digital affirmation.
It is not difficult to picture forming a connection with something better than ourselves, too. Samantha, as an operating system, is limitless. As she puts it, she is not stuck inside a body that will inevitably die and therefore, not tethered to time and space. We as finite beings are however constrained in our potential to evolve. Artificial intelligence represents the step of evolution we cannot reach.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do. Any science fiction best-of list without 2oo1: A Space Odyssey is as trustworthy as HAL-9000. Which is to say, not at all – for the benefit of heathens who have not seen Stanley Kubrick’s seminal work. (Hint: It’s on Netflix.)
In his story that traces human civilisation, enigmatic monoliths drive our endless quest for knowledge and progress. Humanity seems to hold no control over kismet or the technology we created, as Keir Dullea’s human pilot faces the threats of Douglas Rain’s deviant and unpredictable algorithm.
From early creation to the eventual transcendence of the physical self. Kubrick’s exploration of mysteries behind the universe endlessly fascinates. Evolutionary themes are brought across in stunning visuals. Each careful choice of shot composition and set design gains meaning upon each revisit. Above the ageless realism in his symbolic vision, the layered allegory demands the utmost attention of any viewer in every substantial second.
Feel free to share your favourite AI movies below. Till next time… I will be back.