Top 5 AI films
Artificial intelligence regularly plays a significant role in science fiction films; sometimes these visions of a possible future are utopian, but often they are dystopian. Malicious rumours suggest that its popularity might simply be down to producers wanting to save on actors. Nevertheless, artificial intelligence is an important component of the story – even if it does come from a computer. What’s more, it needs a human voice, and the services of an actor to provide it.
We asked our team about their favourite films on the subject. Here is a purely subjective selection.
Martin Bäumler recommends: Transcendence
Wally Pfister's 2014 directing debut, Transcendence, takes place within the environment of nanotechnology science. Johnny Depp plays Dr Will Caster, an eminent authority on artificial intelligence who is working on a computer system that emulates human beings and functions using emotion and logic. He calls these systems “transcendences”.
During the film, Will Caster falls victim to an attack by a group of technology-critical revolutionaries, and he himself becomes a transcendental figure when his wife Evelyn uploads his consciousness to the computers at his research facility. Equipped with massive computing power and all of the data from Wall Street, Will and Evelyn earn vast amounts of money, which they use to develop life-affirming technologies. For example, Will Caster develops nano-robots that help blind people to see again.
At the same time, Evelyn becomes afraid of the technical possibilities of the nano-robots, which Will implants into his patients and uses to control them remotely. Caster’s best friend Max Waters also develops a virus to fight the nano-robots. Evelyn agrees to be infected with the virus and to have her consciousness uploaded into the computer. Her aim is to destroy the terrifying AI being that Caster is seen to have become – even if it also means that the virus would attack every single computer.
At the end of the film the Casters die and all of the world’s computers are broken. However, Caster’s achievements appear to prevail, which is why this dystopian film concludes upon a latently optimistic note. It is an excellently made film about duplicating human consciousness using AI. Despite the danger which ultimately ensues from super-intelligence, the middle section also offers an excellent portrayal of the problems that such intelligence could cause, as well as the potential it offers within the fields of medicine, the environment, technology, and many more.
Vladimir Trendafilov recommends: Her
Let me say at the outset that Spike Jonze has been honoured with several awards for the script of his 2013 film Her – including an Oscar and a Golden Globe. I love that it truly is a love story and that it brings a totally fresh perspective to the subject of technology. Incidentally, Joaquín Phoenix played the lead role, while Scarlett Johansen played the voice of Samantha.
This sensitive story revolves around a shy, single ghostwriter, Theodore Twombly, who is capable of writing extremely passionate letters, but whose private life is remarkably unsuccessful. His marriage has just failed. During his search for a new love, he meets Samantha, a popular operating system with a female voice that he installs on his computer. Whilst his interpersonal relationships with other people continue to appear unpromising, his relationship with the operating system grows. However, Samantha is concerned that she lacks a physical body, and she longs for a sexual relationship. Attempts with a physical substitute partner do not go well, which sounds the death-knells for the relationship.
Theodore then discovers that Samantha is also capable of developing deep relationships with countless other people. If that were not sufficient, she confides in him that she belongs to a group of operating systems that want to become ethereal. She leaves shortly afterwards. Theodore is absolutely destroyed, and yet the future still seems positive. He can now also make the emotional break from his wife, and he begins a relationship with his old school friend Amy.
Erik Meijer recommends: Ex Machina
This film includes many arguments for, but also against AI. Above all, though, it is extremely well made entertainment. Der Spiegel summarised the 2015 Alex Garland film Ex Machina as a “clever, stylish hybrid of psychodrama and horror shock”.
It begins when the programmer Caleb accepts an invitation from boss Nathan, who became a millionaire by creating the most successful Internet search engine ever, Blue Book – and who is now secretly researching artificial intelligence. Nerdy Caleb is invited to test Ava, a robot woman. Caleb doesn’t have a very fulfilling sex life, and he quickly falls in love with Ava. The drama unfolds when he learns Ava is to be decommissioned. When Caleb tries to help her escape, Nathan reveals to him that Ava was built to research the impact that artificial intelligence would have on Caleb. However, neither of them considered Ava in their equations. She proves to be more independent than they had imagined, and plans to escape to live an independent life among real people.
Nathan cannot thwart her plans, and Caleb has no further use for Ava. One of them dies, the other has to stay behind with Nathan, while Ava flies off to a better future in a helicopter intended for Caleb. The film ends in Ava’s favour: she achieves her objective, and finds herself standing at a busy crossroads, surrounded by people.
Mark Mauerwerk recommends: Star Trek – the next generation: The measure of a man
Not a feature film, but the 35th episode of the successful US TV series Star Trek – The Next Generation. Even philosophers have debated this issue: Can we create a new life form that is governed by human rights?
The measure of a man was created in 1989. The focus of the episode is Commander Data – an android with human characteristics – and how Data’s emotions and the individual freedom of his artificial intelligence become the subjects of a court hearing. A cyberneticist and commander called Bruce Maddox is seeking permission to dismantle Data. He aims to gain the knowledge necessary to create an entire army of Datas. Captain Picard, Data’s superior, rejects this attempt, and Maddox attempts to force the transfer of the android.
The court hearing is held following Data’s resignation from Starfleet on Picard’s advice. The court must consider whether data is an item – Maddox believes he is the property of Starfleet – or an individual. The court proves that Data has emotions and self-perception. Picard warns that Starfleet would be guilty of slavery if it were to create Data clones. Because of the complexity of the issue, the judge rules that Data should decide himself whether he wants to be part of the scientific experiment.
On the basis of this, Data does not give his agreement. He is afraid he would lose his personal experiences. However, he does offer to cooperate with Maddox. This makes it clear that Data isn’t simply a thing, but a self-determining being of artificial origins.
Swetlana Ermisch recommends: Matrix trilogy
The brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski rose to fame in 1999 with their film The Matrix. They added two sequels in 2003: Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions both appeared shortly after one another. These films make me think about whether the world really is way I see and experience it. Can I really govern my own life? Or is everything just fiction, and I am just part of a system created by artificial intelligence – that uses me and manipulates my consciousness?
The trilogy plays out in a future in which artificial intelligence has won a war against the people that created it. There is only one free city still occupied by humans – Zion. The humans have swathed the planet into darkness to prevent the robots from harnessing the energy of the sun; in turn, the robots have created the Matrix, a computer simulation that controls the unconscious humans.
Reality within the Matrix is based on carrying out one’s own will, and an oracle shows the protagonists the future. In an epic battle for freedom, artificial intelligence occupies the city of Zion, while a few revolutionaries from the city try to save people from the Matrix. The main character Neo is given the role of a saviour, and the Oracle has prophesised that he will destroy the Matrix. Agent Smith is Neo’s adversary. At the end of the first episode Neo destroys him, however, he re-emerges as a newly re-written program: first refined, and then virus-infected as a new adversary.
In the end, Neo succeeds in destroying the Matrix by sacrificing his own existence; thereby, preventing an attack on Zion that would have destroyed the city. However, when all the speeches are over, the Matrix is rebooted. Artificial intelligence takes over the world.