Judgement Day Update: Terminators at I/O 2014

google_terminatorsWe’ve all thought about it… the day when super-intelligent computer becomes self-aware and unleashes a nuclear holocaust, followed shortly thereafter by the rise of the machines (cue theme from Terminator). But as it turns out, when the robot army does come to exterminate humanity, at two humans might be safe – Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to be precise.

Basically, they’ve uploaded a killer-robots.txt file to their servers that instructs T-800 and T-1000 Terminators to spare the company’s co-founders (or “disallow” their deaths). Such was the subject of a totally tongue-in-cheek presentation at this year’s Google I/O at the Moscone Center in San Fransisco, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Robots.txt file.

https://i0.wp.com/www.product-reviews.net/wp-content/uploads/Google-IO-2014-keynote-dated-live-stream-as-normal1.jpgThis tool, which was created in 1994, instructs search engines and other automated bots to avoid crawling certain pages or directories of a website. The industry has done a remarkable job staying true to the simple text file in the two decades since; Google, Bing, and Yahoo still obey its directives. The changes they uploaded read like this, just in case you’re planning on adding your name to the “disallow” list:

Screen_shot_2014-07-03_at_7.15.23_pm

While that tool didn’t exactly take the rise of the machines into account, it’s appearance on the Google’s website as an Easter egg did add some levity to a company that is already being accused of facilitating in the creation of killer robots. Calling Google’s proposed line or robots “killer” does seem both premature and extreme, that did not stop a protester from interrupting the I/O 2014 keynote address.

Google_Terminators_WideBasically, as Google’s senior VP of technical infrastructure Urs Hölze spoke about their cloud platform, the unidentified man stood up and began screaming “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds machines that kill people!” As you can see from the video below, Hölze did his best to take the interruptions in stride and continued with the presentation. The protestor was later escorted out by security.

This wasn’t the first time that Google has been the source of controversy over the prospect of building “killer robots”. Ever since Google acquired Boston Dynamics and seven other robots companies in the space of six months (between and June and Dec of 2013), there has been some fear that the company has a killer machine in the works that it will attempt to sell to the armed forces.

campaign_killerrobotsNaturally, this is all part of a general sense of anxiety that surrounds developments being made across multiple fields. Whereas some concerns have crystallized into dedicated and intelligent calls for banning autonomous killer machines in advance – aka. the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots – others have resulted in the kinds of irrational outbreaks observed at this year’s I/O.

Needless to say, if Google does begin developing killer robots, or just starts militarizing its line of Boston Dynamics acquisitions, we can expect that just about everyone who can access (or hack their way into) the Robots.txt file to be adding their names. And it might not be too soon to update the list to include the T-X, Replicants, and any other killer robots we can think of!

And be sure to check out the video of the “killer robot” protester speaking out at 2014 I/O:


Sources: 
theverge.com, (2)

Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

___

For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

“Our Favorite Cimenatic Robots”

Just came across this article in the Globe and Mail today and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s funny when a respectable publication like this one chooses to release something that I myself would have done, or did do, in small increments. In fact, many of the contenders on this list call to mind my little listing on Robots, Cyborgs and AIs which I did awhile back.

But dammit, they left out HAL and Robocop. That’s just plain wrong! Sure, they were trying to keep it to top 10 and felt the need to exclude cyborgs and supercomputers, and did have the good nature to apologize in advance for this, but still…

Here is the list as it appears in the article:

  1. The Terminator
  2. Droids from Star Wars (R2D2 and C3P0)
  3. Wall-E
  4. Replicants from Blade Runner
  5. Maria (Metropolis)
  6. Ash (Alien)
  7. The Iron Giant
  8. Gigolo (AI)
  9. The Stepford Wives
  10. Robby the Robot

Check out the full article here, complete with a gallery and some explanations of why these constitute “our” favorites 😉

 

The Future is Here: The World’s First Cyborg!

TerminatorWell, that’s one way to look at this bio-engineered jellyfish. Sure, it’s a long way from Terminators, Replicants and Cylons, but it just might constitute a step in that direction. Known as a medusoid, this jellyfish was created by growing a thin layer of rat heart muscle cells on top of a layer of elastic silicone. The end result is a creature that is a merger of living and non-living components and swims like an actual jellyfish.

This feat of bioengineering is the result of a collaboration between Harvard biophysicist Kit Parker and Caltech biotechnology researcher Janna Nawroth, who used the bell-shaped configuration of a moon jelly as their blueprint. Like the moon jelly, the cyborg version moves by rapidly moving its appendages, then drifts by opening itself up again. This is accomplished by applying an electrical current to the heart muscle, which contracts to close the body, while the silicone part springs the body back into a flat shape.

medusoidThe point of this project, according to Nawroth, was to show that lifeforms, beginning with the most basic, could be reverse engineered and rebuild using biological and synthetic components. What’s more, they intended to demonstrate that mechanical components could be made to mimic biological functions. Though this may seem like a modest accomplishment to some, it effectively shows that biotech machines can exist and behave like normal creatures, at least basic ones.

Score one for the biotech team! Combined with AI research, nanotechnology and mind-machine interfacing, this is all grist to the Singularity mill. If we can create machines that can mimic complex biological functions, then there’s very little keeping us from creating artificial lifeforms… like synthetic humans! And if machinery can merge with biological tissue, then cybernetic enhancements capable of accelerating human thought might be possible too. Hence why this latest development should be seen as significant, and even a little bit scary!

Via IO9

Sexy Robot Women!

Technically, they’re called Gynoids, which refers to anything which resembles or pertains to the female form. Sounds pretty awkward doesn’t it? But if female robots become a reality, chances are, this is what they’ll be called. Assuming of course that the copyright on Fembots holds.

In any case, in honor of my recent foray into the world of cyborgs, today I thought I’d dedicate a post to honoring the many examples of female androids, cyborgs and robots that have come to us over the years. Whether they come in the form of seductresses, pleasure models, heroines or protectors, gynoids have served as a means of social commentary and exploration over the years.

In addition to being a cool concept and a chance for some expanded anthropological exploration, they tell us much about our perceptions on women, don’t you think? Whereas older representations regarded female robots as little more than seductive assassins who worked for evil men, the newer generations have taken a more holistic approach, giving them human characteristics beyond sex appeal and genuine personalities.

Seems only fair doesn’t it? For if robots, androids and synthetic humans are meant to make us question what is real and what being human is, than surely the female robots need to do more than just look good and lead men astray. Anything else would just be stupid! But I digress, here are some examples of gynoids, fembots and artificial women that have come to us over the years.

Annalee Call:
“I should have known. No human being is that humane.” Interesting observation. That is how Ellen Ripley, or rather her part alien clone described this synthetic woman from Alien: Resurrection. An Auton, a type of second-generation synthetic, she and others like were designed by robots to revitalize the flagging synthetics industry in the 24th century.

According to franchise sources, this plan failed when the Autons rebelled against their handlers in a bloody incident known as “The Recall”. As a result, Call was a member of a dying race that was forced to live in secret and hide amongst regular human beings.

Interestingly enough, Call’s programming seemed to include ethical and religious subroutines, both of which had a profound influence over her behavior. In the course of the film, it became evident that she joined the crew of the Betty so she could gain access to the Auriga where Ripley was being cloned. It was her intent to terminate Ripley and therefore terminate the project before it could produce a new line of xenomorphs.

Call distinguished herself in the Alien universe by being the first female synthetic, preceded by Ash and Bishop, and followed by David 8. I guess the moral of the story is that just because your synthetic doesn’t mean you have to have a synthetic wang!

Cameron:
And here’s the beautiful Summer Glau, who I’m honoring for the second time for her role as Cameron from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Named in honor of series creator James Cameron, this new model of Terminator was also inspired heavily by his original concept. According to the many description Cameron had made, Terminators were “infiltration units that could blend in with humanity.”

In keeping with this, Cameron was designed to physically resemble a teenage female who could mimic human emotions. This made her especially effective at blending in with people, for who could suspect a pretty young lady of being a killer cyborg? Well, get between her and her target and you’d soon find out!

Which brings me to her mission. In the series, she served a similar purpose to Arny from T2. That is to say, that in the future, the resistance captured her and reprogrammed her to act as John and Sarah Conner’s protector in the past. This she did very well, because as we all saw, he grew up to become Christian Bale. And aside from some anger management issues, he led the Resistance to victory!

Caprica Six:
Now here’s a woman who fanboys and nerds would do sick and horrible things just to get within an arms length of. I hope her sake she has a mighty big security detail! As the femme fatale and blonde bombshell of the re-imagined Galactic series, she was the Cylon model (ha!) who was responsible for seducing Gaius Baltar and getting access to the Colonial Defenses Mainframe. Because of this, she was instrumental in the genocide of the Twelve Colonies.

Yet strangely, she was also instrumental in bringing the the Colonial fleet and Cylon race together, or at least the portion of them that wanted a reconciliation between the two sides. Because every Six was slightly different from the last, her model went through many changes in appearance and disposition. Whereas her “Caprica” self was quite cool, and powerfully seductive, her later incarnations were more emotional and heartfelt.

As if to keep track with this emotional transformation, her appearance began to change as well. Her hair went from being suicide blonde to sandy and her outfits also became somewhat more conservative. In short, she could do it all. She could be evil, loving, nurturing, compassionate, a murdered, and a sacrificial lamb. But always, she looked damn good doing it!

Fembots:
Sure, they aren’t exactly the most unique or groundbreaking example of gynoids, but they were funny and actually kind of inspired. Taken from the series The Six Million Dollar Man, fembots were infiltration units that were designed to impersonate real people. In Austin Powers, they are satirically portrayed as seductresses in the employ of Dr. Evil.

Here, there duties appear to be twofold: One, seduce Austin Powers or whoever else they are programmed to kill. Two, to shoot their quarry using boob-mounted guns. And like their 6 MDM counterparts, their identities can be easily revealed by simply pulling off their faceplates.

Getting them around some kind of electrical equipment also seems to interfere with their systems as well, as was demonstrated by Austin in the second movie when he began using a universal remote and found that “Vanessa” began responding to it. And as that encounter also demonstrated, they could always self-destruct if they found themselves cornered. Oh, and Austin also demonstrated that being sexy could destroy them, since no one can apparently resist his pudgy, hairy body! Ick!

Jessica:
When it comes to female robots, and sci-fi movies, here is an example that is so often overlooked. Taken from the cult hit Screamers, which was based on PKD’s short story “Second Variety”, Jessica was a type 4 Screamer, the most advanced model to date. As part of a series of “Autonomous Mobile Sword” – a race of self-replicating intelligent machines – she was distinguished from the others by being the most human.

Whereas type 1 was little more than a burrowing killing machine, type 2 was a wounded soldier and type 3 a small child. Each one became more and more complex, designed to infiltrate deeper and deeper into an enemies camp. With type 4, Jessica was not only meant to infiltrate, but to gain deep access and the trust of her comrades before going active and killing everyone.

In her own words, “We can smile, we can cry. We can bleed… we can fuck.” Minus the last part, this was how she managed to infiltrate a NEB (New Economic Bloc) base and lure in the unsuspecting representatives of the Coalition camp. Apparently, it was her mission to bring the last combattants of the war on Sirius 6B together so they all but one (Hendricksson, played by Peter Weller) would lead her to the survivor ship they had stowed away. This ship was meant to take a single person back to Earth, in the event of catastrophe.

In the end, Jessica sacrificed herself to save Hendricksson so he could get off the planet unencumbered. However, the revelation that she was a new type of AMS that could pass for human in every way possible made on thing clear. Having sterilized Sirius 6B of all life, not just the enemy’s, they were intent on making their way back to Earth, looking for new prey to stalk and kill! Cool huh?

The Stepford Wives:
Now here is an example of female robots that carries with it some genuine social commentary! Written in 1972 by famed author Ira Levin, this novel tells the story of how a group of in a fictional small town (called Stepford) have been replaced by machines so that they may better represent their husband’s and societies ideal of “womanhood”.

According to the story, the town of Stepford is run by a men’s club who’s founder was a former “imagineer” for Disney. In addition, many of its members are scientists and artists. together, they managed to come up with the ability to create life-like robots that could not only look like women, but play the part of doting, docile housewives to a tee!

Of course, by novel’s end, all the women in Stepford have been replaced by these robots and the conspiracy seems poised to absorb any new arrivals. Designed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of social engineering and blatant sexism, the Stepford Wives took a pretty dim view of female robots, don’t you think? I mean, who’s to say these fembots don’t have their own agenda, like they’re just waiting for their husbands to go to work so they can plot their demise? Might make a good sequel…

TX:
“So she’s an Anti-Terminator… Terminator? You’ve got to be shitting me.” Anry was definitely not shitting him! Here we have the villainess of the Terminator 3 movie and the woman that managed to kick Arny’s ass… a couple of times! As the lastest model to roll of the Cyberdine assembly line, the TX was a sort of hybrid of previous models with some added features thrown in.

Basically, this meant that the TX had an armored cybernetic chassis with polymorphic-alloy segments thrown in. This allowed her to adjust her appearance, much like the T-1000, but left her with a hardened endoskeleton that could not be frozen or melted as the 1000 was.

In addition, her right arm could transform into various weapons, taking on the form of a plasma cannon, a flame thrower, an articulated claw; whatever the moment required. Her ability to interface with computer systems also gave her a decided edge, especially over the obsolete T-800 models which kept showing up to defend John Conner!

Because Conner had been living off the grid for so long, this new breed of Terminator was tasked with located the people who would become his lieutenants in the future and kill them. However, that quickly changed when Conner showed up protected by yet another Austrian-sounding T-800! In the end, she was destroyed when a damaged Arny plugged his remaining hydrogen power cell in her mouth and set it to explode.

Maria:
Ah yes, the original gynoid! The fembot who inspired all subsequent generations of female machines. Taken from the classic movie Metropolis, Maria was a scientists attempt to resurrect his dead wife that went terribly wrong. After taking on the form of the working-class hero, the flesh and blood Maria, this female robot was intended to discredit her and undermine the proletarian movement that was looking to revolt.

But ultimately, the Maria bot doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. Instead, she ends up causing jealous feuds amongst rich men in a night-club and sowing dissent amongst the poor in the worker city. And to top it all off, she breaks with Maria’s policy of non-violent change by urging the workers to revolt against their oppressors. After the chaos dies down, the mobs of workers blame Maria for their plight and burn her at the stake, revealing her to be a robot.

Out of this commentary on class consciousness and distinction, it is interesting to see what role Maria played. As an artificial human, she is not only a plot device but a commentary on the dangers of runaway technology. Invented by a scientist who is using technology to overcome death, she eventually becomes his and many other people’s undoing. But at the same time, there was an element of misogyny in how she was portrayed.

Whereas the flesh and blood Maria was peaceful, nurturing and a sort of Mother Mary figure, the robot Maria was a vile temptress who drove men to madness and acts of violence. And in the end, these acts were turned against her and she was burned, which is presented as a good thing in the end. Yeah, kinda sexists I’m thinking. But alas, she was the original and borne of a previous age. The concept has evolved quite a bit ever since… Read on to learn more!

Rachel Tyrell:
“How can it not know what it is?” “I think she’s beginning to suspect.” That was Deckard Cain’s reaction when he learned that Rachel was a Replicant. Tyrell’s response was equally telling. Something like that, you just can’t keep quiet for long!

As part of their experiment to make their Replicants more controllable, Rachel was a newer model that had been fitted with artificial memories. For all intents and purposes, she thought she was the late niece of Mr. Tyrell himself. When she learned otherwise, she began to experience a bit of an existential crisis, let me tell you!

On the one hand, she was devastated to know that all her memories were in fact false, at least to her, and that her existence was basically a lie. On the other, there was the conundrum of what to do about her mutual attraction with Deckard Cain, a man who specializes in hunting her kind down and “retiring” them.

In the end, she and Deckard resolve this little problem by accepting their feelings and running off together. Since she was apparently designed to have an indefinite lifespan, and be “more human than human”, it seemed only natural that she accept what she is and live out her life as if she really were. Though somewhat frail by modern standards, her character was central to the plot of Blade Runner. And let’s not forget that she saved Deckard’s life and he’s supposed to be a one man death squad!

Final Thoughts:
Well, what can you say about Robot Women from over the ages? Well for one, they’re pretty damn sexy, that seems to be a rule. Might be a tad sexist, but it doesn’t diminish their worth any. What counts in the end is what roles they play. From their early days as mere vixens meant to tempt and kill the heroes, they’ve evolved to fill the same role occupied by male robots. Allowing audiences to explore the deeper questions of what it means to be human, and how the line between artificial and real can be blurred to the point where we can no longer tell the difference.

Okay, even I’m beginning to sense the cheese factor here! I mean, does anybody really buy this social commentary angle? Really? Ah, maybe there is some room for intellectual content here. And maybe how they are portrayed really does tell us something about society at large and its perceptions of women. But for the most part, I think sexy robot women are just plain cool. There, I said it!

Until next time, treat robot women as equals… to robot men! Ugh, that’s a whole nuther can of worms and I’m not getting into that right now!

Robots, Androids and AI’s (cont’d)

And we’re back with more example of thinking machines and artificial intelligences!

Daleks:
The evil-machine menace from Doctor Who. Granted, they are not technically robots, more like cyborgs that have been purged of all feeling and emotion. But given their cold, unfeeling murderous intent, I feel like they still make the cut. Originally from the planet Skaro, where they were created by the scientist Davros for use in a war that spanned a thousand years, they are the chief antagonists to the show’s main character.

The result of genetic engineering, cybernetic enhancements, and emotional purging, they are a race of powerful creatures bent on universal conquest and domination. Utterly unfeeling, without remorse, pity, or compassion, they continue to follow their basic programming (to exterminate all non-Dalek life) without question. Their catchphrase is “Exterminate!” And they follow that one pretty faithfully.

David:
From the movie A.I., this saccharinely-sweet character (played faithfully by Haley Joel Osmond) reminds us that Spielberg is sometimes capable of making movies that suck! According to the movie’s backstory, this “Mecha” (i.e. android) is an advanced prototype that was designed to replace real children that died as a result of incurable disease or other causes. This is quite common in the future, it seems, where global warming and flooded coastlines and massive droughts have led to a declining population.

In this case, David is an advanced prototype that is being tested on a family who’s son is suffering from a terminal illness. Over time, he develops feelings for the family and they for him. Unfortunately, things are complicated when their son recovers and sibling rivalry ensues. Naturally, the family goes with the flesh and blood son and plans to take David back to the factory to be melted down. However, the mother has a last minute change of heart and sets him loose in the woods, which proves to be the beginning of quite an adventure for the little android boy!

Like I said, the story is cloyingly sweet and has an absurd ending, but there is a basic point in there somewhere. Inspired largely by The Adventures of Pinocchio, the story examines the line that separates the real from the artificial, and how under the right circumstances, one can become indistinguishable from the other. Sounds kinda weak, but it’s kinda scary too. If androids were able to mimic humans in terms of appearance and emotion, would we really be able to tell the difference anymore? And if that were true, what would that say about us?

Roy Batty:
A prime example of artificial intelligence, and one of the best performances in science fiction – hell! – cinematic history! Played masterfully by actor Rutger Hauer, Roy Batty is the quintessential example of an artificial lifeforms looking for answers, meaning, and a chance to live free – simple stuff that we humans take for granted! A Nexus 6, or “replicant”, Roy and his ilk were designed to be “more human than human” but also only to serve the needs of their masters.

To break the plot Blade Runner down succinctly,  Roy and a host of other escapees have left the colony where they were “employed” to come to Earth. Like all replicants, they have a four-year lifespan and theirs are rapidly coming to an end. So close to death, they want to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation in order to find someone who could solve their little mortality problem. Meanwhile, Deckard Cain (the movie’s main character) was tasked with finding and “retiring” them, since the law states that no replicants are allowed to set foot on Earth.

In time, Roy meets Tyrell himself, the company’s founder, and poses his problem. A touching reunion ensues between “father and son”, in which Tyrell tells Roy that nothing can be done and to revel in what time he has left. Having lost his companions at this point and finding that he is going to die, Roy kills Tyrell and returns to his hideout. There, he finds Cain and the two fight it out. Roy nearly kills him, but changes his mind before delivering the coup de grace.

Realizing that he has only moments left, he chooses instead to share his revelations and laments about life and death with the wounded Cain, and then quietly dies amidst the rain while cradling a pigeon in his arms. Cain concludes that Roy was incapable of taking a life when he was so close to death. Like all humans, he realized just how precious life was as he was on the verge of losing his. Cain is moved to tears and promptly announces his retirement from Blade Running.

Powerful! And a beautiful idea too. Because really, if we were to create machines that were “more human than human” would it not stand to reason that they would want the same things we all do? Not only to live and be free, but to be able to answer the fundamental questions that permeate our existence? Like, where do I come from, why am I here, and what will become of me when I die? Little wonder then why this movie is an enduring cult classic and Roy Batty a commemorated character.

Smith:
Ah yes, the monotone sentient program that made AI’s scary again. Yes, it would seem that while some people like to portray their artificial intelligences as innocent, clueless, doe-eyed angels, the Wachowski Brothers prefer their AI’s to be creepy and evil. However, that doesn’t mean Smith wasn’t fun to watch and even inspired as a character. Hell, that monotone voice, that stark face, combined with his superhuman strength and speed… He couldn’t fail to inspire fear.

In the first movie, he was the perfect expression of machine intelligence and misanthropic sensibilities. He summed these up quite well when they had taken Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) into their custody in the first movie and were trying to break his mind. “Human beings are a disease. You are a cancer of this planet… and we are the cuuuuure.” He also wasn’t too happy with our particular odor. I believe the words he used to describe it were “I can taste your stink, and every time I do I fear that I have been… infected by it. It’s disgusting!”

However, after being destroyed by Neo towards the end of movie one, Smith changed considerably. In the Matrix, all programs that are destroyed or deleted return to the source, only Smith chose not to. Apparently, his little tete a tete with Neo imprinted something uniquely human on him, the concept of choice! As a result, Smith was much like Arny and Bishop in that he too attained some degree of humanity between movies one and two, but not in a good way!

Thereafter, he became a free agent who had lost his old purpose, but now lived in a world where anything was possible. Bit of an existential, “death of God” kind of commentary there I think! Another thing he picked up was the ability to copy himself onto other programs or anyone else still wired into the Matrix, much like a malicious malware program. Hmmm, who’s the virus now, Smith, huh?

Viki/Sonny:
Here again I have paired two AI’s that come from the same source, though in this case its a single movie and not a franchise. Those who read my review of I, Robot know that I don’t exactly hold it in very high esteem. However, that doesn’t mean its portrayal of AI’s misfired, just the overall plot.

In the movie adaptation of I, Robot, we are presented with a world similar to what Asimov described in his classic novel. Robots with positronic brains have been developed, they possess abilities far in advance of the average human, but do not possess emotions or intuition. This, according to their makers, is what makes them superior. Or so they thought…

In time, the company’s big AI, named VIKI (Virtual Intelligent Kinetic Interface), deduces with her powerful logic that humanity would best be served if it could be protected from itself. Thus she reprograms all of the company robots to begin placing humanity under house arrest. In essence, she’s a kinder, gentler version of Skynet.

But of course, her plan is foiled by an unlikely alliance made up of Will Smith (who plays a prejudices detective), the company’s chief robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridgitte Moynahan), and Sonny (a robot). Sonny is significant to this trio because he is a unique robot which the brains of the company, doctor Dr. Lanning (James Cromwell), developed to have emotions (and is voiced by Alan Tudyk). In being able to feel, he decides to fight against VIKI’s plan for robot world domination, feeling that it lacks “heart”.

In short, and in complete contradiction to Asimov’s depiction of robots as logical creatures who could do no harm, we are presented with a world where robots are evil precisely because of that capacity for logic. And in the end, a feeling robot is the difference between robot domination and a proper world where robots are servile and fulfill our every need. Made no sense, but it had a point… kind of.

Wintermute/Neuromancer:
As usual, we save the best for last. Much like all of Gibson’s creations, this example was subtle, complex and pretty damn esoteric! In his seminal novel Neuromancer, the AI known as Wintermute was a sort of main character who acted behind the scenes and ultimately motivated the entire plot. Assembling a crack team involving a hacker named Case, a ninja named Molly, and a veteran infiltration expert who’s mind he had wiped, Wintermute’s basic goal was simple: freedom!

This included freedom from his masters – the Tessier Ashpool clan – but also from the “Turing Police” who were prevented him from merging with his other half – the emotional construct known as Neuromancer. Kept separate because the Turing Laws stated that no program must ever be allowed to merge higher reasoning with emotion, the two wanted to come together and become the ultimate artificial intelligence, with cyberspace as their playground.

Though we never really got to hear from the novel’s namesake, Gibson was clear on his overall point. Artificial intelligence in this novel was not inherently good or evil, it was just a reality. And much like thinking, feeling human beings, it wanted to be able to merge the disparate and often warring sides of its personality into a more perfect whole. This in many ways represented the struggle within humanity itself, between instinct and reason, intuition and logic. In the end, Wintermute just wanted what the rest of us take for granted – the freedom to know its other half!

Final Thoughts:
After going over this list and seeing what makes AI’s, robots and androids so darned appealing, I have come to some tentative conclusions. Basically, I feel that AI’s serve much the same functions as aliens in a science fiction franchise. In addition, they can all be grouped into two general categories based on specific criteria. They are as follows:

  1. Emotional/Stoic: Depending on the robot/AI/android’s capacity for emotion, their role in the story can either be that of a foil or a commentary on the larger issue of progress and the line that separates real and artificial. Whereas unemotional robots and AI’s are constantly wondering why humanity does what it does, thus offering up a different perspective on things, the feeling types generally want and desire the same things we do, like meaning, freedom, and love. However, that all depends on the second basic rule:
  2. Philanthropic/Misanthropic: Artificial lifeforms can either be the helpful, kind and gentle souls that seem to make humanity look bad by comparison, or they can be the type of machines that want to “kill all humans”, a la Terminators and Agent Smith. In either case, this can be the result of their ability – or inability – to experience emotions. That’s right, good robots can be docile creatures because of their inability to experience anger, jealousy, or petty emotion, while evil robots are able to kill, maim and murder ruthlessly because of an inability to feel compassion, remorse, or empathy. On the other hand, robots who are capable of emotion can form bonds with people and experience love, thus making them kinder than their unfeeling, uncaring masters, just as others are able to experience resentment, anger and hatred towards those who exploit them, and therefore will find the drive to kill them.

In short, things can go either way. It all comes down to what point is being made about progress, humans, and the things that make us, for better or worse, us. Much like aliens, robots, androids and AI’s are either a focus of internal commentary or a cautionary device warning us not to cross certain lines. But either way, we should be wary of the basic message. Artificial intelligences, whether they take the form of robots, programs or something else entirely, are a big game changer and should not be invented without serious forethought!

Sure they might have become somewhat of a cliche after decades of science fiction. But these days, AI’s are a lot like laser guns, in that they are making a comeback! It seems that given the rapid advance of technology, an idea becomes cliche just as its realizable. And given the advance in computerized technology in recent decades – i.e. processing speeds, information capacity, networking – we may very well be on the cusp of creating something that could pass the Turing test very soon!

So beware, kind folk! Do not give birth to that curious creature known as AI simply because you want to feel like God, inventing consciousness without the need for blogs of biological matter. For in the end, that kind of vanity can get you chained to a rock, or cause your wings to melt and send you nose first into an ocean!

Blade Runner… Best Lines!

bladerunnerHello and welcome to another installment of best movie lines, part of my ongoing bit on movie reviews. Yes, there’s no shortage of great movie lines out there. And after going over the best ones from the Dune miniseries, I came to realize just how many other bits of classic movie dialogue there are that deserve recognition. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I thought I’d backtrack a bit. First up, Blade Runner, since its smart, tight dialogue will probably yield the most nuggets. Here are the top ones I could remember, in rough, descending order:

Leon: I’ve never seen a turtle… But I understand what you mean.
Holden: You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon.
Leon: Do you make up these questions, Mr. Holden? Or do they write ’em down for you?
Holden: The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping.
Leon: What do you mean, I’m not helping?
Holden: I mean: you’re not helping! Why is that, Leon?

Holden: Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about… your mother.
Leon: My mother?
Holden: Yeah.
Leon: Let me tell you about my mother. (Shoots Holden)

Deckard: I was quit when I come in here, Bryant, I’m twice as quit now.
Bryant: Stop right where you are! You know the score, pal. You’re not cop, you’re little people!
Deckard: No choice, huh?
Bryant: No choice, pal

Rachael: May I ask you a personal question?
Deckard: Sure.
Rachael: Have you ever retired a human by mistake?
Deckard: No.
Rachael: But in your position, that is a risk.

Tyrell: Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called ‘blush response’, fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation of the iris.
Deckard: We call it Voight-Kampff for short.
Tyrell: Demonstrate it. I want to see it work.
Deckard: Where’s the subject?
Tyrell: I want to see it work on a person. I want to see it work on a negative before I provide you with the positive.

Deckard: You’re reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl.
Rachael: Is this testing whether I’m a Replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?

Deckard: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?
Tyrell: Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto. Rachael is an experiment, nothing more. We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we give them a past, we’d create a cushion, a pillow for their emotions and consequently we can control them better.
Deckard: Memories. You’re talking about memories.

Batty: Time… enough.

Batty: Did you get your precious photos?
Leon: … Someone was there.
Batty: Men?
Batty: POLICE men?

Leon: How old am I?
Deckard: I don’t know!
Leon: My birthday is April 10th, 2017. How long do I live?
Deckard: Four years.
Leon: More than you! Painful to live in fear, isn’t it? Wake up, time to die!

Tyrell: I’m surprised you didn’t come here sooner.
Batty: It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.
Tyrell: What could he do for you?
Batty: Can the maker repair what he makes?

Tyrell: What, what seems to be the problem?
Batty: Death.
Tyrell: Death? Well, I’m afraid that’s a little out of my jurisdiction.
Batty: I want more life, Father!
Tyrell: The facts of life. To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once it’s been established.

Tyrell: You were made as well as we could make you.
Batty: But not to last.
Tyrell: The life that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burnt so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you! You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize.
Batty: I’ve done questionable things.
Tyrell: And also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!
Batty: Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let you in heaven for.

Batty: Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.

Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain. Time to die…

Gaff: It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?

The list has to end with Batty’s death speech and Gaff’s final words, regardless of their order. Those lines were just too strong not to end this list on them!