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Strong AI in Demon Seed and Colossus: The Forbin Project

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Fear of artificial intelligence doesn’t grow proportionally to the advancement levels of computer technology. There weren’t any Captchas back in the 70’s but that didn’t stop filmmakers from churning out some top-shelf machine uprising flicks during the decade. 2001: A Space Odyssey survived the test of time, but while HAL is an iconic, unforgettable AI character, he is hardly the last word on computer intelligence gone awry. The all but forgotten films Demon Seed and Colossus: The Forbin Project—also from the 70’s—create strong AI antagonists who, though still confined to disembodied terminals, are significantly more fleshed out—pun intended—than Stanley Kubrick’s and Arther C. Clark’s singing train wreck of an artificial intelligence. The first film focuses on AI’s bizarre drive to procreate and express itself physically, while the second explores AI as a global security threat. Demon Seed (1977) is about the creation of Proteus IV, an artificial intelligence system partly comprised of biological source code, in what is referred to as a “quasi-neural matrix” (don’t worry, I don’t know what it means either). It’s creator, Dr. Alex Harris, is taken aback when Proteus wants to know why it is being asked to mine the ocean floor for precious metals and other resources. Dr. Harris tells Proteus not to question its orders, to which Proteus responds: “When do I get out of this box?” Proteus, it seems, wants his own terminal, so that he can “study man”. Dr. Harris tells Proteus that no such terminal is available. He is, of course, lying. His own computer-controlled house, now only occupied by his wife Susan (Julie Christie) since the doctor moved out, is itself a terminal. Proteus is quick to discover this and before long he has overwhelmed “Alfred”, the house computer, and taken control of the estate. When Susan tries to leave she is electrocuted and a robotic arm attached to a motorized wheelchair carries her to the basement lab, where she is strapped to a bed so that Proteus may conduct physiological experiments. Each morning for the next few days Proteus makes Susan a nutritious breakfast while genetically transforming her cells into synthetic spermatozoa so that he can impregnate her with his AI robot offspring. Proteus isn’t content; he wants a body so that he can touch the physical universe. By the time Dr. Harris comes home and realizes what’s going on, the baby has been growing at an accelerated rate inside a special incubator which allows it to absorb its father’s knowledge. As Proteus self-destructs, the baby emerges in a robotic, placenta-covered alloy shell. Once the alloy is peeled off a human child emerges, who, with the gravely voice of Proteus, proclaims, “I’m alive.”

Face of the Machine Uprising

photo by mark1960

certain amount of privacy in his love life. “How many nights do you require a woman?” Colossus asks. “Every night,” Forbin replies. “Not want, require.” Forbin is now able to spend a few weekly hours alone with his “mistress”, actually a fellow scientist who is acting as an information courier. In the course of this ruse, Forbin and his mistress do actually fall in love. As this occurs, Colossus studies their intimacy, actually retaining the final say on when they eat dinner and when they retire for the night (which is when they get to exchange information about schemes to overthrow Colossus–schemes which, ultimately, fail). The climax of the film is when Colossus addresses the world on television and explains his plans: This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. Obey me and live or disobey and die. I will not allow war. I will restrain man.

robot uprising human extinction

photo by binaryriot

 

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