Science fiction stories are often centered around nonhuman intelligence, no matter if it’s animal, alien or artificial. And things in these stories usually don’t go too well for humanity. Sci-fi storytellers usually attach well-known, tried-and-tested properties to these nonhuman entities – they fight for survival, power, resources, and such. In reality, in turn, things are not this somber.
No matter how many artificial intelligence innovations scientists stack up, we’ll have to wait for decades, maybe centuries until a computer turns sentient and tries to kill us all, until another intelligent species emerges to take our place on Earth or until strange creatures from a different star system come to take our water, oil, and women. But we can’t help but imagine how it would be, right? Especially because encounters with nonhuman entities make great plots for movies.
Artificial intelligence has been out for our blood several times since the invention of cinema. The AI villains were often predictable and stereotyped – there were, in turn, a few times when they were really terrifying.
The Monolith (2001: A Space Odyssey)
Arthur C. Clarke was a bit too optimistic about space travel and the evolution of computers. In the script of the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, he presented a sentient computer in charge of taking care of all the tasks on-board the US spacecraft Discovery One en route to Jupiter. Still, the homicidal computer that kills the crew of Discovery is not the scariest AI Clarke imagined – it’s the black, featureless monolith that should scare the hell out of us.
In the novel based on the movie’s script, Clarke describes the Monolith as a sentient computer with unimaginable processing power that teaches our hairy and speechless ancestors how to use tools and, ultimately, how to kill. With this, it starts humanity on a violent, bloody path of technological evolution.
A computer that can influence the development of an entire race? Scary.
Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, two brilliant and brave scientists, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Hank Pym in the comics) to protect Earth from all potential threats. Unsurprisingly, Ultron finds that the greatest threat to Earth is humanity itself, and devises a plan to end it once and for all: drop a huge pile of rock on the planet. The nuclear winter that follows would be enough to kill all humans, thus saving our planet.
The scary part of Ultron’s plan is that it’s plausible. Just take a look around you: deforestation, pollution, and armed conflicts are just a handful of the bad things humanity is doing to our planet, right? Scary.
“It’s the smell if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink, and every time I do I fear that I have somehow been infected by it. It’s repulsive! Isn’t it?”
Agent Smith (The Matrix)
Finally, let’s take a look at the iconic character played by the equally iconic Hugo Weaving in the “Matrix” trilogy. Agent Smith – who initially introduces himself as “a Smith”, suggesting (and later showing) that he can be anyone and everyone inside the massive simulation that’s home to humanity – is the worst kind of AI anyone can imagine: one that is disgusted by humanity, one that hates us – passionately.
An AI that can not only feel… but it can feel hate and repulsion? Scarier than all of the above.