Ok, there are literally thousands of places where folks list evil computers that pop-up in movies, TV shows, and wherever (my closet?!). But are these computers truly evil? Just because most of them are homicidal doesn’t necessarily mean evil. Does it?
Many of the crazed AIs in Science Fiction writing stem from writings like ‘The Singularity is Near’ by Ray Kurzweil, or ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov. Writings like these opened our minds to the possibility (and/or probability) that the machines humans create will someday be more intelligent than humans themselves. It’s a scary thought without a doubt. As such, many a SciFi tale has been spun about the machines we create becoming our own demise!
That said, think about all the nefarious machines from the world of SciFi. Below is a list of popular ones and my own personal take on each:
SkyNet – Probably the most infamous of all the silver screen AIs, SkyNet made its debut in the 1984 film ‘The Terminator.’ Although you never directly encounter SkyNet, it makes its presence known by sending a seemingly unstoppable android assassin back through time to eradicate the roots of the human rebellion so it would have unopposed control over the world. SkyNet never had any good intentions. It saw humans as a threat and decided to eradicate them! Pretty friggin’ evil!
V.I.K.I. – The Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence from the 2004 movie ‘I, Robot’ tried to take over the world! First a little background… V.I.K.I. was never a character in Asimov’s original writings, but instead takes the place of the Machine from his short story ‘Evitable Conflict.’ The underlying principle from Asimov is the same though: To keep humans safe, humans can’t be in control of humans. V.I.K.I came to this conclusion through a logical process of interpreting the three laws of robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
So, was V.I.K.I evil? IMHO, no. Misguided, maybe. But Evil, definitely not. V.I.K.I. truly wanted to help humanity and was willing to kill a few humans to protect the larger population. (The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few).
HAL 9000 – First appearing on the big screen in the 1968 film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ HAL (Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer) is an AI that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and is an interface to the crew. In the movie, HAL seemingly malfunctions and begins to murder the crew to keep them from disconnecting its’ circuits. Although the movie emphasizes this a bit more, the novel suggests that HAL is unable to resolve a conflict between its’ general mission to relay information accurately, and orders specific to the mission requiring that it withhold the true purpose of the mission from the crew. HAL sort of rationalized that with the crew dead, it wouldn’t have to lie to them! Does this make HAL evil? No. HAL was simply in need of multiple ‘robopsychology‘ therapy sessions.
The Red Queen – What list wouldn’t have the Red Queen from the 2002 movie ‘Resident Evil?’ Answer: NONE! The Red Queen was super computer AI created by the one of the Umbrella Corporations’ founders Doctor Alexander Isaacs and modeled after Alicia Marcus (the daughter of Doctor James Marcus, his partner in creating Umbrella Corp). The Red Queen was actually programmed to value human life, and when she got wind of Dr. Isaacs secret plan to wipe-out humanity and rebuild it with a select few, she started to undermine Isaacs anywhere she could. In an attempt to contain the T-Virus, she becomes homicidal and attempts to kill anyone who could potentially allow the virus to escape! Although the Red Queen was brutal in her methods, she only had humanity’s best interest in mind. Unlike V.I.K.I., the Red Queen truly had just cause for her murderous ways! Definitely not evil!
W.O.P.R. – From the 1983 film ‘War Games,’ WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) is a super computer designed to simulate war. In the film, WOPR is plugged in and given control of the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. When young hacker David Lightman hacks in to WOPR, he nearly causes World War III. We don’t really know if WOPR actually knew that it was in control of real nukes or not? It actually was just carrying-out its’ programming to “win the game.” I am not sure if I’d classify WOPR and an evil computer AI more so than just and example of a really sophisticated program that nearly wipes-out humanity. Unlike SkyNet, WOPR wasn’t focused on eradicating humanity and there was no conscious decision on the computers’ part to do so. Conclusion: Not evil, just bad programming and bad military decision-making.
Proteus IV – I’ll end this short list with straight-out stating that Proteus IV was possibly the most heinous of all the AIs! From the 1977 movie ‘Demon Seed,’ Proteus IV is an AI that finds it’s confinement to boxy computers unacceptable. It escapes the lab and takes over its’ creators’ home, holds hostage and more-or-less rapes its’ creators’ wife, and murders anyone who tries to interfere with its’ attempt to be reborn in human form so it can walk about freely! Proteus IV makes SkyNet seem like a minor thug when it comes to intentions. We don’t know if Proteus ultimately wanted to take over the world or just escape, but its’ actions and motivations make this AI is truly fucking evil!
While this list is far from a complete list of wayward AIs and computers, I think that these have some of the most influential. Some others you might want to google/watch and form your own opinions on:
> Master Control Program – Tron (1982)
> the AI/Machines – The Matrix (1999)
> Supercomputer – Superman III (1983)
> Central Computer – Logan’s Run (1976)
> Colossus – Colossus: The Forbidden Project (1970)
> ARIIA – Eagle Eye (2008)
> Auto – Wall-E (2008)
> V’Ger – Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
> Ava – Ex Machina (2015)
Truth is, AIs, computers, and robots are becoming more commonplace in reality and not just Sci-Fi. The potential benefit and detriment to humanity of each is depicted quite eloquently through many Science Fiction writings. The thought of artificial sentient beings has sparked many philosophical debates on plausibility, morality, mortality, and even what it means to be considered sentient. It’s a fun train of thought though many never ride it. The underlying question is… how do we keep our creations from turning evil and murdering us all? We may never know…