The concept of artificial intelligence has been around for millennia, although the actual term was coined during a conference at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire in 1956. Many cultures worldwide have their share of legends, myths, and stories of artificial creatures coming to life, thinking, and behaving like people. These storytellers spun tales of automatons and robots, entertaining (and possibly scaring) their Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese audiences.
Today's storytellers include filmmakers, and plenty of movies out there deal with the concept of artificial intelligence. Sometimes the results are humorous; other times, they're terrifying.
So, in that spirit, we present the top sixteen must-see movies for anyone interested in the field of artificial intelligence. We're offering them in alphabetical order rather than trying to arrange them by some rating system or release dates.
Did we somehow leave out your favorite AI movie? Drop us some feedback and tell us what we overlooked!
2001: Space Odyssey
Let's start things off with a genuine classic. The HAL 9000 is the ultimate blueprint for an actual artificial intelligence: intelligent, logical, controlling, and devoid of emotional constraints. HAL controls and monitors the spacecraft heading to Jupiter, and, well, soon enough, it's talking about not opening the pod bay doors, and things just get worse from there. Also, take each letter in "HAL" and advance it one letter up in the alphabet.
How can you possibly have a list of Artificial Intelligence movies and not include AI? You can't! In this Pinocchio-like story, an AI robot called David is brought in as a temporary substitute for a comatose child. Unfortunately, the results are rather downbeat. However, the movie represents an attempt by people to use AI to fill in a role generally associated with a natural person (e.g., a child). And of course, David wants to be an actual human, a desire that gives rise to whether Artificial Intelligence could someday evolve to the point that it has desires and goals.
Did someone mention a classic AI movie earlier? Blade Runner, an adaptation of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, deals with replicants, AI-powered bio-engineered copies of humans. The Artificial Intelligence movie does an admirable job of blurring the line between being human and being an artificial life form, causing the audience to rethink perhaps their ideas on personhood and the morality of how we should treat artificial life.
Set in a dystopian future, this AI movie explores what happens when a castoff, damaged police robot is given Artificial Intelligence to such a degree that the titular character forms its own opinions and has emotions. Of course, today's AI learns by interacting with its surroundings, and that's exactly what happens to Chappie, although granted, it's at a much higher level. Still, the movie shows how AI can learn by itself while also exploring ethical issues.
This Artificial Intelligence movie makes the audience tackle whether AI can be inclined towards good or evil. A programmer, Caleb, wins a one-week visit to the home of his company's genius CEO (Nathan). Once there, Caleb is given a chance to experiment with Nathan's latest creation; an AI named Ava. The movie takes us to some dark places, but it makes people ponder the ethics and morality of performing tests on self-aware life, even if that life was artificially made.
Artificially intelligent operating systems or virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Bixby can make our lives easier and better organized, but what if the technology became so sophisticated that you could even fall in love with it? That's the premise of Her, where a lonely man falls in love with an incredibly sophisticated AI system called Samantha. Her is an interesting AI movie because it revolves around technology already in use; it just happens to be a more advanced model. Her also touches upon how people are increasingly relying on AI
Today, some people fear concepts like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, believing that machines could take over the world one day. This AI movie speaks to those fears, as a supercomputer called VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) turns bad and decides that humans need to be controlled before they do themselves in. The movie is set in another dystopian world, where robots have replaced humans in many public service jobs. Driverless cars, anyone?
This film deviates from the pattern shown thus far on the list. Artificial Intelligence is not the central character but rather represented by two robots called CASE and TARS that help the crew of the Endurance. However, unlike other robots portrayed in science fiction, this pair in no way resembles humanoids. This configuration speaks to the idea of function over form, a possible design strategy for future AI
Take HAL from 2001 and make him a lot less violent. In this Artificial Intelligence movie, you have GERTY, the AI that helps maintain the lunar base. It also provides Sam Bell, the protagonist and sole crew member, with company. GERTY represents A.I,'s potential as both a resource for operating a facility and a source of comfort and camaraderie.
No one would blame you for arching a skeptical eyebrow if someone told you that Robocop contains some deep meaning and thoughts about the morality of AI, and yet here we are. Sure, the AI movie is big, dumb fun. Still, it also touches upon the dangers of weaponizing AI and raises questions about who is creating the programming and what parameters they are employing?
Star Trek: The Next Generation
You just know that Star Trek had to appear on this list somewhere, right? We’re deviating from the “movie” format and throwing a spotlight on one episode of ST:TNG in particular. It’s called “The Measure of a Man,” season two, episode nine, and it’s a magnificent treatment of the moral questions around AI In a nutshell, a Starfleet officer wants to take Commander Data, the super-intelligent android, and disassemble him for study. Data refuses, and the officer insists, saying the android is property of Starfleet. What follows is a trial to determine Data’s fate, and it covers areas like personhood and the ethics and rights of artificial intelligence. "The Measure of a Man" is episode nine of season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation and is highly recommended.
And if we are talking about Star Trek, it stands to reason that we need to mention Star Wars and its unique addition to the AI field, astromech droid R2-D2, and human relations cyborg C3-PO. These droids have sophisticated artificial intelligence as well as emotions. However, they and other droids are often treated as servants or inferiors, even as pets. Don't forget that C3-PO often referred to Luke Skywalker as "Master Luke." How will society treat sophisticated AI in the future?
Set in a world where artificial intelligence now controls everything, this classic AI movie explores the nature of constructed (virtual) reality. The Matrix touches upon the fear of machines taking over and using us to keep them running.
Here's another dystopian classic. This time, the artificial intelligence is Skynet, an AI designed to automate missile defense that became self-aware on August 29, 1997, and triggered World War III. And, of course, Skynet also creates a cyborg assassin to go back in time, the titular Terminator. This AI movie's main takeaway is that you should design an AI that's reliable and definitely include an "off" switch!
Okay, time to lighten things up a little with something more family-oriented and upbeat. However, the movie does embrace a dystopian tone. Earth is filled with garbage, and humanity now lives on giant spaceships and has really let itself go. Machines do all the work, and humans sit there like slugs. However, WALL-E itself (himself?) is the perfect example of an Artificial Narrow Intelligence that exists even today. An A.N.I. is an intelligent system that does one thing exceptionally well, and in WALL-E's case, it's cleaning up garbage. The movie also shows AI as something that eventually saves humanity rather than exercising world domination, creating time-traveling killer cyborgs, or refusing to open the pod bay doors.
Let's end the list by returning to killer robots. This entry isn't about the HBO series but the AI movie released in 1973, which eventually inspired the cable show. The film deals with the titular Westworld, an adult theme park dedicated to the Western genre and staffed by robots that help customers live out their fantasies. So, naturally, things go sideways, and the robots rebel against their human masters. The film shows how AI could be used in a deep-dive, immersive entertainment capacity and provides us a cautionary tale of the ethical implications of manipulating AI for our amusement.
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