Library Columns Samantha Gambill

“Artificial Intelligence at Your Library” by Samantha Gambill

Machines are getting more intelligent by the day and soon, some would have us believe, we’ll achieve Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. Whether this will be a boon to humanity or its ultimate downfall remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that the idea is quite popular. The number of movies and books featuring intelligent machines or even humans transcending their mortal limits is only increasing.

The collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, rocked the world in 1968. It polarized critics, but ended up becoming the highest grossing film of the year nonetheless. Today, it is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential movies of all time. “2001: A Space Odyssey” brought many space age issues to light too, including discussion about HAL, the antagonistic A.I.

Alex Garland’s 2015 film, “ex_machina” pays homage to 2001 by using HAL’s iconic, red interface near the beginning of the movie to foreshadow the duplicitous nature of the resident A.I. The tagline from the movie is: there is nothing more human than the will to survive. As with Stanley Kubrick’s classic, “ex_machina” raises ethical issues (and warning flags) about possible future A.I.s.

There is less moral ambiguity in the popular “Terminator” franchise. Shortly after achieving self-awareness, ‘Skynet’ determined that humans were a threat to its existence and ex-machinainitiated a nuclear holocaust known as Judgment Day, killing billions. Since then, it has been on a quest to eliminate the remaining members of our species.

Similarly, “The Matrix Trilogy” depicts a reversed reality where A.I.s utilize humans as tools. The first movie in the series was also the first to sell over one million DVDs in the US, according to “The Matrix” joins “2001: A Space Odyssey” in being widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

In the opposite camp stand lighter fare such as Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and the Disney Pixar hit “WALL-E.” Both titles feature benevolent, helpful A.I.s who pose no real threat to humanity. WALL-E, the cute trash compacting robot, takes a journey through space to help one of his own kind and thereby ours. In “A.I.” , David loves his human mother and will do anything to be reunited with her.

Two other recent releases in the same vein are Gabe Ibáñez’s “Automata,” in which human and sympathetic A.I. automatateam up for survival, and Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie.” The latter takes place in a foul-mouthed, crime-riddled Johannesburg, South Africa. It does not make one want to visit this version of the city, but does make the viewer see human morality and struggle differently through the lense of the childlike, titular A.I. In one particularly tense moment, Chappie understandably says, “I have fears” while in the hands of the antagonist.

Whether because we fear death or are excited by innovation, humans have always been obsessed with the concept of immortality. Seemingly everybody wants to live forever, even at the cost of their humanity. Both Wally Pfister’s “Transcendence” and Luc Besson’s “Lucy” tackle the theme of transhumanism, albeit with slightly different approaches.

transcendenceWith such a wide array of thoughts and ideas about the possible nature of artificial itelligence, we are sure to see even more of an increase in this already popular subgenre of science-fiction. There will surely be many more stories to open up debate and inspire us all to action. The best part? They are all free for your viewing pleasure here at the library. So, come down and check a few out. Will A.I. be a good or bad thing? I’ll be waiting to hear your thoughts.