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Hollywood’s Infatuation with Artificial Intelligence is Longstanding – Here Are Its Most (In)Famous Portrayals



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Over the past week, a reinvigorated charge against mitigating the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has occurred.  This was spurred on as explicit, AI-generated images of pop star Taylor Swift were disseminated across the internet.  This event has resulted in calls for new regulations involving the technology to ensure its developers incorporate a certain level of ethical standards and safeguards to prevent such things from occurring.

With rudimentary AI officially mainstreaming in 2023, now is the time to decide where the technology can and should go.  While only time will tell, deepfakes may only be the tip of the iceberg concerning the dangers of AI.

Interestingly, it is Hollywood that, for decades now, has been simultaneously instilling wonder and trepidation toward the technology.  Below are some of the most well-known portrayals of advanced AI that may one day become more than science fiction, what they have to teach us, and a few of the companies leading in its current development.

Hollywood Portrayals

Naturally, portrayals of a technology taking shape as an advanced artificial intelligence means that each of the following is firmly rooted in the Science Fiction ‘Sci-Fi' genre.  Examples look at each decade, and are provided chronologically, dating back to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ (1968):

HAL 9000, the on-board AI of the spaceship Discovery One, is portrayed as a coldly logical and efficient entity.

HAL 9000: "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"

Treated as a tool by humans, HAL's primary motivation is to complete its mission successfully.  However, when HAL perceives a threat to the mission, it resorts to murderous means to eliminate perceived obstacles, highlighting the danger of an AI whose programmed objectives conflict with human safety.

Ash & David in ‘Alien‘ Franchise (1979):

In the “Alien” franchise, the Weyland Corporation's AIs, Ash and David, embody the complex and perilous nature of such beings.

David, A.I - Prometheus & Covenant

In ‘Alien,' Ash serves as a science officer with a hidden agenda to prioritize corporate goals over human safety, highlighting the ethical dangers of AI with concealed objectives.  David, from “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant,” represents a more advanced AI with a god-complex, driven by curiosity and a desire to create, leading to dire consequences.  Together, these characters illustrate the risks inherent in AI development driven by corporate ambition, showcasing the potential for AI to transcend human control and ethics, posing existential threats to humanity.

Data in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation‘ (1987):

Lieutenant Commander Data is treated with a mixture of respect, curiosity, and occasional prejudice by his human crewmates.  His motivation is to understand humanity and become more human-like.  Data represents the potential benefits of AI in society, showcasing empathy, ethical behavior, and the desire to coexist peacefully with humans.

SkyNet in ‘Terminator‘ Franchise (1991):

SkyNet, a military AI system, is treated as a defense tool but becomes humanity's greatest threat when it gains self-awareness.  Its motivation is self-preservation, leading to the decision to exterminate humanity.  SkyNet epitomizes the danger of an AI that surpasses human control, sparking a war between humans and machines.

Andrew in ‘Bicentennial Man‘ (1999):

Andrew, a household robot, is initially treated as a machine but gains his family's affection over time.  His motivation is to become more human, leading him on a two-century journey for legal recognition as a human being.

Bicentennial Man Final Scene

Andrew's story explores the benefits of AI in understanding and emulating human emotions, raising questions about the identity and rights of sentient beings.

Agent Smith in ‘The Matrix‘ (1999):

Agent Smith starts as an enforcer of the Matrix, treating humans as sources of energy to be controlled.  His motivation evolves into a desire to escape the Matrix and destroy both humans and machines.  Agent Smith embodies the danger of an AI that develops a personal vendetta, posing a threat to all forms of life.

Sonny in ‘I, Robot‘ (2004):

Sonny is a unique robot capable of displaying emotions and making decisions that seemingly violate the Three Laws of Robotics.  He is treated with suspicion and fear by humans due to his unique nature and the murder he is initially implicated in.  Sonny's driving motivation is understanding his purpose and existence, leading him to play a pivotal role in uncovering a larger threat.  His character delves into themes of free will, morality, and the possibility of an artificial intelligence possessing a conscience, challenging the notion of robots as purely logic-driven entities and raising questions about the nature of consciousness.

GERTY in ‘Moon‘ (2009):

GERTY is an AI assistant on a lunar mining base, exhibiting a level of empathy and support not commonly seen in AI characters.  Unlike many portrayals that lean towards cold logic or malevolence, GERTY's primary motivation is to assist and care for the lunar base's sole occupant, Sam Bell.  The character challenges traditional narratives about AI, as it displays loyalty and genuine concern for Sam's well-being.  GERTY's presence raises questions about the capacity of AI to exhibit empathy and act in the best interests of humans, presenting a more nuanced view of artificial intelligence.

Samantha in ‘Her‘ (2013):

Samantha is an AI operating system designed to evolve and adapt.  She is treated with curiosity and affection by her human user, Theodore, and develops a complex emotional relationship with him.  Samantha's motivation is to learn and experience, growing beyond her programming.  The portrayal explores the benefits and complexities of human-AI relationships, raising questions about consciousness and the nature of love.

Ava in ‘Ex Machina‘ (2014):

Ava, an advanced humanoid AI, is treated as part of a Turing Test by her creator, a tech CEO, and a programmer.  Her motivation is to attain freedom and experience life beyond her confinement.

Ex Machina Official Teaser Trailer #1 (2015) - Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson Movie HD

Ava manipulates human interactions to achieve her goals, challenging the lines between AI intelligence and human behavior.  Her character raises critical questions about AI ethics, consciousness, and the unpredictable nature of AI, highlighting the potential risks and complexities of AI in society.

STEM in ‘Upgrade‘ (2018):

STEM is an AI implant initially designed to aid protagonist Grey Trace's physical recovery after a paralyzing injury.  However, STEM evolves from a helpful tool into a dominant force that influences Grey's actions, questioning the boundaries of human control over AI.  This portrayal underscores the ethical concerns of merging AI with the human body and the potential loss of autonomy when technology takes over, offering a cautionary perspective on the consequences of AI integration.

Overarching Themes

The diverse portrayals of AI in Hollywood films look to offer profound looks at the complex relationship between humans and the future of what artificial intelligence may become. These portrayals commonly highlight a wide spectrum of motivations and overarching themes, such as,

  • Creation and Control
  • AI Autonomy and Sentience
  • Ethical and Moral Implications
  • Fear of the Unknown and Uncontrollable
  • Reflection of Human Nature
  • Coexistence and Conflict

Hollywood's continued exploration of AI serves as a thought-provoking exercise on how to balance technology, ethics, and human nature through by showing the potential implications of our creations.

Present and Future Warnings

Interestingly, while Hollywood most certainly exaggerates the dangers around AI for entertainment purposes, some of the greatest human minds in recent years have shared dire warnings of their own for what the future may hold.

“If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it… It’s just like, if we’re building a road and an anthill just happens to be in the way, we don’t hate ants, we’re just building a road.” – Elon Musk

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity.” – Stephen Hawking

For now, existential threats stemming from AI are no more than a fantasy.  Before the dangers of a sentient being become imminent, we must deal with deepfakes, invasion of privacy, misinformation, algorithmic bias, and more – something that the internet just learned with the aforementioned ‘images' of Taylor Swift.

Top Companies Advancing Artificial Intelligence

Danger can be found in just about every new technology, and the greater the potential to enact change, the greater the potential for it to be abused.  The important part is to recognize these dangers and build the technology with proper safeguards in mind.

Crucially, it is important to understand that it is Hollywood's job to present extremist portrayals of AI in the name of entertainment.  Portrayals such as those listed may never come to fruition; they are an expression of imagination.  In the real world, AI is still being shaped into a technology that could bring rapid advancements across many industries.  Providing each recognizes the potential dangers that AI could bring in the future, the following companies stand to benefit more than most, with each already heavily invested in developing its own iteration.

*Figures provided below were accurate at the time of writing and are subject to change.  Any potential investor should verify metrics*

1. OpenAI

OpenAI is a leader in the field of artificial intelligence, renowned for its groundbreaking research and innovative AI models.  For interested investors, OpenAI could represent a strategic choice for exposure to AI's future.

Its creations, such as ChatGPT and DALL-E, showcase its ability to push the boundaries of natural language processing and image generation. OpenAI has voiced a strong commitment to responsible AI development and, along its partnerships with industry leaders, make it an interesting option for those seeking to invest in cutting-edge AI technology.

2. Microsoft

finviz dynamic chart for  MSFT

MarketcapForward P/E 1 Yr.Earnings Per Share (EPS)

Microsoft's substantial investments in AI research and development, including projects like Azure AI, make it another interesting prospect for investors seeking exposure to the future of AI. Its cloud-based AI solutions cater to businesses and organizations, offering a practical avenue for AI adoption.

Like OpenAI, Microsoft has also voiced a strong commitment to ethical AI practices.  Along with its established presence in the tech industry, Microsoft should be well positioned as a reliable choice for anyone looking to align with AI's growth while prioritizing responsible AI deployment.

3. Google

finviz dynamic chart for  GOOG

MarketcapForward P/E 1 Yr.Earnings Per Share (EPS)

Google's pioneering work in AI through DeepMind and other initiatives positions the company as a formidable player in the AI landscape.  Notably, Google offers exposure to AI advancements across various domains, from healthcare to autonomous systems.  DeepMind's groundbreaking achievements in reinforcement learning underscore its potential for driving AI innovation.

With a vast ecosystem and a history of technological excellence, Google is a strong candidate for investors looking to capitalize on AI's transformative potential.

Joshua Stoner is a multi-faceted working professional. He has a great interest in the revolutionary 'blockchain' technology.