As the progress of AI has started to accelerate exponentially in the past year or so following the advent of technologies like DALL-E and ChatGPT, the subject is rising more and more to the forefront of zeitgeist. The world is collectively holding its breath on AI, both anticipatory and afraid of how it will affect the lives and livelihoods of people. In cinemas, the portrayal of Artificial Intelligence has long fascinated audiences, sometimes even predicting technological landscapes that were once deemed futuristic. Here are a few movies that explored the topic at hand, providing nuanced insights and worrisome glimpses of the impact of AI.
The Matrix (1999): A Virtual Wake-Up Call
Set against a dystopian background, the movie introduced us to a world where machines have enslaved humanity by trapping their minds in a simulated reality. Neo, the protagonist, joins a rebellion to take down their robotic overlords. Along the way, he has to make many proactive choices that decide the fate of humanity itself.
In this day and age when endless scrolling is sort of a status quo and the algorithm has perfected capturing our attention, one can’t help but wonder if we aren’t already enslaved to our machines.
Ex Machina (2014): Exploring the Ethics of AI
In a secluded research facility, Caleb is introduced to Ava, a humanoid robot created by the CEO of his company, Nathan. The narrative unfolds as Caleb grows fond of Ava and starts to doubt the intentions of his boss and his own part in the dynamic.
Overall, ‘Ex Machina’ delves into the ethics of creating AI that possesses self-awareness. It anticipates the debates surrounding the moral responsibility of AI creators and the potential emergence of sentient machines with their own desires and motivations.
While the current race to enhance artificial intelligence is far from infusing true sentience into these human creations, there may come a time where AI assumes a more Frankstenian theme. The movie helps develop advocacy for stricter regulation in AI development and close monitoring of related progress.
Minority Report (2002): Pre-Crime and Predictive Policing Algorithms
In a future where a specialised police department apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge, or predictive AI, Chief John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, becomes a target of the system he once believed in.
‘Minority Report’ introduces the concept of pre-crime, a system that uses precognitive humans to predict future crimes. However, multiple studies in the real world have shown how predictive policing algorithms can demonstrate racial bias and perpetuate the unjust systems of the past instead of modifying them to be more fair.
Her (2013): A Love Story with Artificial Intimacy
Theodore forms a deep emotional connection with Samantha, an AI operating system. The story progresses as Theodore grapples with the complexities of love and intimacy in the digital age.
With isolation skyrocketing in the 21st century and rise of technologies like AI chatbots and Replika, it is becoming more common for people to seek companionship with artificial entities instead of building real human connections. ‘Her’ explores the emotional dimensions of human-AI relationships, serving as a metaphor for the evolving nature of affection in a world increasingly influenced by technology.
Big Hero 6 (2014): AI as a Heroic Companion
Striking a more positive note, Big Hero 6 is an optimistic take on AI and its benefits for people. In the movie, Hiro and his inflatable healthcare companion, Baymax, team up with friends to become a superhero group. Baymax, equipped with healthcare capabilities, becomes a lovable and helpful AI companion.
While aimed at a younger audience, ‘Big Hero 6’ introduces the idea of AI as a benevolent sidekick and companion. It reflects a more optimistic view of AI contributing to human well-being and teamwork. It also highlights the strides AI can help make in the healthcare and diagnostic industries.
Megan (2022): The Grave Dangers Of AI
Speaking of AI's relationship with children, the movie Megan spins a satirical tale, weaving humour and horror to warn against the perils of unsupervised artificial intelligence. The titular Megan, a state-of-the-art robot companion designed to be the perfect friend for little Cady, embodies the danger of unchecked AI.
Megan offers a chilling glimpse into the potential pitfalls of unmonitored AI, particularly in its relationship with vulnerable individuals like children. It urges us to approach AI development with caution, prioritising ethical considerations and human oversight to ensure our technological companions remain our friends, not foes.
Superintelligence (2020): A Lighthearted Take on AI Impact
Carol Peters becomes the subject of an AI experiment as she navigates the challenges posed by a superintelligent system observing her life.
‘Superintelligence’ injects humour into the exploration of AI's potential impact on everyday life. While comedic, the film touches on real concerns about the consequences of highly intelligent AI and its influence on human behaviour.
Free Guy (2021): Is the Future AI?
This Ryan Reynolds-starrer throws a virtual punch at the ethics of AI. Inside a chaotic video game, a bank teller named Guy stumbles upon sentience, unaware he's an ‘non-playing character’. As players exploit him, he levels up, sparking self-awareness and a quest for free will. Ultimately, his journey clashes with the game's creators who fear losing control of their digital world.
Free Guy playfully satirises the potential for AI to evolve beyond its programming and challenges the boundaries between virtual and real, player and person. Its humour hides questions about agency, the nature of reality, and if AI ever gains sentience, how we will or won’t be able to navigate it.
In the cinematic landscape, these films go beyond entertainment, serving as mirrors reflecting societal anxieties, aspirations, and ethical considerations related to the rise of artificial intelligence. Each narrative contributes to the ongoing discourse on the role of AI in shaping our collective future, offering audiences both cautionary tales and optimistic visions of what tomorrow might hold.