AI In Pop Culture: Busting Myths Your Favorite Movies Told You - The 90's Edition



May 17, 2022

AI In Pop Culture: Busting Myths Your Favorite Movies Told You - The 90's Edition

Hollywood’s love for AI plotlines has been expressed through many blockbuster films. We’ve seen smart robots taking over the planet and humans falling in love with AI robots. Most of us take these exaggerated portrayals as a probable reality. AI as a concept is riddled with misconceptions, and Hollywood has added fuel to this fire. Let’s explore some myths your favorite movies have told you.

The Terminator (1984)

A cyborg named Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is sent back in time to 1984 from 2029 on a mission to kill Sarah Connor. The woman fated to be the mother of John Connor- a resistance leader who will threaten Skynet, the AI dictator of a very post-apocalyptic 2029. Sarah eventually stops the cyborg with the help of Kyle Reese, a soldier also sent back from 2029 to protect her, who ends up becoming John’s father before dying.

Eleven years later, Connor and her son are attacked again, this time by a shapeshifting android assassin called T-1000 from 2029. A second cyborg from the future, this time programmed to be a good guy, arrives to help them. In the course of destroying the T-1000, one of the future creators of Skynet is killed, leaving it uncertain whether or not Skynet will emerge in 1997, as Kyle Reese had previously stated.

Myth Busting: The plot assumes scientists will figure out how to create computers that can think and act rationally like humans. It's easy to assume that sentient AI systems are next to come, given the recent progress in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Fortunately for us, despite the ground-breaking progress in AI, computers, and robots that can think and reason like us exist only in the sci-fi genre. Today's AI systems can only learn to perform one single task. The technologies underlying current AI systems can't produce thinking and reasoning systems. Check out this blog for a more in-depth explanation. We have no idea yet how to build computers or robots that can think, reason, and assassinate humans like Terminator or Skynet, much less robots who can time travel.

RoboCop (1987)

RoboCop takes place sometime in a dystopian future in Detroit, overruled by gang violence. Brutal cop killings are common, and mega corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) wants to market robot cops to stamp out crime. The first police droid, ED-209, malfunctions and kills an executive. A junior scientist, Bob Morton, comes up with a better way to make a policeman by combining robotics with a human brain. And he gets his chance when hero cop Alex Murphy played by Peter Weller, is killed on duty. He proceeds to use his remains, and around that human core, the first "RoboCop" comes to being- a half-man, half-machine that operates with perfect logic. Murphy's old memories keep surfacing in RoboCop’s "mind."

Officer Anne Lewis, Murphy's partner before he died, recognizes something familiar about the RoboCop and his mannerisms. She eventually realizes what it is: her old partner. The plot progresses like any other action thriller with fighting and killing. The movie ends with the Chairman, aka Old Man, asking RoboCop his name, and he replies, "Murphy."

Myth Busting: RoboCop avoids the “AI robot turning sentient” approach and goes even further. Biomechanical cybernetics (the application of mechanical principles to living organisms) is advancing at a decent rate. We have figured out how to hook electronics up to the brain. The nervous system and neuro-system are compatible with a lot of technology, for example, prosthetics .

The obstacle is figuring out how to “program” the brain. Methods to do this are very roundabout with approaches like hypnotism or psychology to put in triggers or commands or even blocking memories, but inputting the code for how to react to different situations, much less laws like the ones in our society are impossible. It would require a lifetime of training and rehabilitation for someone needing that many cybernetic replacements.

In theory, it might be possible one day to have a half-human half-robot. Still, it would be more than expensive and ethical questions will always be present.

The Matrix (1999)

Cult-favorite and one of the most popular AI movies to date, The Matrix, is the story of humanity's technological downfall. AI gets advanced enough to go to war against humans and win. They create sentient machines that imprison the surviving humans in a reality simulating program named the Matrix.

The story follows Thomas A. Anderson, played by Keanu Reeves, a man of dual lives. By day he's a programmer working at a corporation, and by night a hacker who goes by the name of "Neo." When the police target Neo, he assumes it's because of his night-time persona. Although, this sudden emergence of a mysterious figure named Morpheus tells him that the truth is beyond his imagination. Intrigued by Morpheus, Neo seeks more knowledge from him, leading up to the culture-defining "red pill" and "blue pill" scene. Curiosity gets the best of Neo, and he decides to take the red pill. He tumbles down the rabbit hole, finally waking up and realizing how he has spent his life living in virtual reality and how his entire life was a lie. It's eventually revealed that Morpheus and his crew are a group of prisoners who have escaped the machines and are leading an underground uprising against them. The franchise follows Neo through three movies. The third one, The Matrix Revolutions, reveals him to be the prophesied one who ends the war between man and machine.

Myth Busting: "The Matrix" universe bases on the philosophical concept that the reality we live in might not be real. Neo discovers that his world is a simulation run by hyper-intelligent AI. A lot of people believe in this concept, including some scientists. There's even a theory called the Simulation Hypothesis developed by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom. We can’t say for sure that we aren't living in a simulation (given the fact that no Morpheus offered us wisdom or pills).

Rizwan Virk, a video game designer and computer scientist published a book in 2019, The Simulation Hypothesis, that explores Bostrom's theory in greater detail. According to Virk, we'd have to go through 10 stages of technological development to get to what he calls the simulation point. It's s the point at which we can create a hyper-realistic simulation like The Matrix. We're at stage five, which is around virtual and augmented reality.

But the most difficult part and this is something technologists don't talk about — is in the movies, the reason they thought they were fully convinced was because they had cords going into their cerebral cortex, and that's where the signal was beamed. This brain-to-computer interface is the area we barely made any progress in, but we are making progress in it. It's in the early stages.

So his guess is that within a few decades to 100 years from now, we might reach the simulation point. It's safe to assume we aren't living in a simulation, but our great-grandchildren might.

In Summary

Hollywood loves exaggeration, and we see that love in uncountable films. A few notable mentions would be Blade Runner, Space Odyssey, Ex Machina, I, Robot, and Her.

These films have left their mark and will be unforgettable, but these plots also gave birth to theories believed by the mass.

With AI being integrated into our lives more and more, it’s important to understand what this technology is capable of to use it to its best potential.

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