J003-Content-Hollywoods-favorite-villain_SQEver since Hal in 2001: a Space Odyssey took over the spaceship, Hollywood has made computers into the bogeyman.

As computers and software grow more advanced, so do the silicon-based bad guys. The problem is that as computers and software grow more advanced, so do the threats they pose. The more cyber security threats get mass media airtime the more they seem to inspire Hollywood – just look at the critical acclaim received by Her and Ex-Machina in the past few years. But this is not a new phenomenon and in the past 3 decades there’s been countless movies which had some kind of computer as the malefactor (here is a list of 78 movies which makes for perfect weekend watching).

Earlier movies seem ridiculous now, with crude machines doing unreasonable things. The exception, of course, is Hal, which today seems as relevant as ever – I daresay even more so.

Then in the 80s RoboCop made it’s debut and it turned this Hollywood technique on its head with a cyborg, mostly made of robotic parts attached to the still moral mind of an actual human which is used to kick the snot out of humans with immoral minds. So technology came to the rescue, that is, until 1999 when the Wachowskis unveiled The Matrix.  EMP anyone?

A real danger?

As crazy as some older movies may seem, they were more real than viewers imagined the could be. Is this just my opinion? Hardly. This is the view of Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous physicist alive today. Hollywood even did a biopic on Hawking – last year’s The Theory of Everything.

In a BBC recent interview – conducted through Hawking’s voice synthesis robot sounding computer – Hawking simply explained the danger of artificial intelligence, and no complex equations are required.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking said.

Hawking knows a thing or two about AI, and not just as the renowned physicist he is. Hawking’s speech system uses AI to try and figure out which words Stephen wants to use next.

Today’s A.I. can do many things, especially expert systems which codify knowledge and then can make inferences and decisions. As software evolves and Moore’s Law brings greater and greater hardware horsepower to bear, A.I. will become truly intelligent and perhaps wilful. A.I. systems could even redesign themselves for more intelligence and power. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded,” Hawking said.

So perhaps in the future Hollywood won’t have to make up computer villains – a documentary would suffice.

A quick aside

As a quick side note, as editor in chief of AmigaWorld magazine back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I got a chance to become pen pals with Arthur C. Clarke who was a huge fan of the then innovative Commodore computer. He sent me updates on Hal’s birthday and mysterious crop circles in letters from Sri Lanka and I sent him software and Maple Syrup from Vermont, US. Clarke wrote one of his last novels ‘Ghost of the Grand Banks’ back in 1990 and he based the book on his use of the Amiga to make Mandelbrots which are fractals that expand infinitely both inwardly and outwardly. Instead of being evil, like Hal, the computers in this novel built amazing fractal images based on simple math. It was like Clarke wanted to show computers can be used for beautiful and amazing things too.

So what’s in store for the relationship between humankind and A.I., and how close are we to Hawking’s nightmare to become true and The Matrix to be more than just a movie?