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Why A.I.? Hollywood’s Obsession with Artificial Intelligence

A.I. from Humans
Gemma Chan in “Humans” from Channel 4.

As storytellers and story lovers, humans and Hollywood alike are always interested in stories of artificial intelligence. Whether the machine in question is the story’s evil-doer or sympathetic hero, there’s never a shortage of androids on whom we assign very human emotional characteristics: love, sympathy, jealousy, deep understanding, and sometimes rage. With our ever-growing real-world relationship with machines and computers, it’s no wonder that the question of if and when a machine can learn to be human comes up over and over again.

To honor our collective curiosity on all things cyborg, here are some of our favorite A.I. stories from film and television:

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Rent or buy at $2.99 and up.

2001: A Space Odyssey is heralded as one of the best movies of all time, and the film’s main antagonist is a sentient computer known as HAL 9000. HAL and his eerie recitation of “I”m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” was many a sci-fi fan’s first introductions into the world of A.I. storytelling.

  1. Transcendence – HBO  

In this 2014 Wall Pfister sci-fi flick, Johnny Depp plays a scientist on a quest to create the world’s first sentient machine. Transcendence is certainly a cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing the power that a computer has with a human mind.

  1. Short Circuit – Crackle

This 1980s classic is nothing short of adorable. Number 5 is alive, you guys!

  1. Bicentennial Man – Rent or buy from $2.99 and up.

When you ask Alexa to tell you a joke, does she get it? Re-watching movies like Bicentennial Man is a little bit creepy with the popularity of smart speakers like the Google Home and Alexa becoming so mainstream. Perhaps the personal robot is not too far off in the future.

  1. RoboCop (1987)– IFC | DirecTV Now

In this somewhat cheesy, but still beloved. 1980s movie from director Paul Verhoeven a police officer is nearly killed in a confrontation, and then his body is used without his consent in order to test a new RoboCop prototype.

  1. RoboCop (2014) – Rent or buy from $2.99 and up.

This 2014 reboot starring Joel Kinnaman attempts to bring a sense of depth and gravity to the original RoboCop story.

  1. Blade Runner – Rent or buy from $2.99 and up.

Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi neo-noir Blade Runner is probably one of the most beloved A.I. stories of all time. Starring Harrison Ford and loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the film’s depiction of humanoid robots that are virtually indistinguishable from humans has inspired many films and television programs that followed it.

  1. Blade Runner 2049 – HBO

Set 30 years after the original, Blade Runner 2049 picks up with a new character portrayed by Ryan Gosling who has discovered a potentially disastrous secret.

  1. Ex Machina – Netflix

Domhnall Gleeson stars as a programmer who has been chosen to test the capabilities of a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). This sleek and elegant film by director Alex Garland was one of the most surprisingly good movies of 2015.

  1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – DirecTV Now

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in T2: Judgement Day as a robot sent back in time to protect a teenaged John Connor from a shape-shifting model who has been sent to kill him.

  1. Star Trek: Insurrection – DirecTV Now | Starz | Epix

Star Trek’s Data (played through the years by Brent Spiner) takes center stage in this 1998 film. The android experiences a malfunction, and the Enterprise must come to his (and his hostages’) rescue.

  1. Battlestar Galactica (1978) – Prime Video | Hulu | NBC

When mankind is attacked by an army of Cylons (warrior robots created by an extinct reptilian species with a mission to destroy humankind), the last remaining Battlestar in the galaxy is that of Galactica. Galactica’s Admiral Adama must band the remaining population in order to attempt survival.

  1. Battlestar Galactica (2004) – Prime Video | Hulu | DirecTV Now

This remake of the 1978 series ran for four seasons (and a couple of miniseries) on the SyFy network and included the addition of humanoid Cylons, a sleek redesign for its toaster models, a heavy political storyline and some gender-bending casting. A drama through-and-through, this series forced viewers to ask themselves: what if the frakking Cylons are just humans too?

  1. Chappie – Hulu

Starring Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel, Chappie is about a militarized robot that just might be a little more human than his creators intended.

  1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence – Hulu | Epix

An android created to love. That is the central premise of Stephen Spielberg film A.I. For fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it should be no surprise that A.I. was director Stanley Kubrick’s final project before his death in 1999. Spielberg took the reins but made sure to honor the late director in his interpretation of the story.

  1. D.A.R.Y.L. – Starz

When a family fosters a young 10-year-old boy, the last thing they expect is that this sweet child is actually a government-created robot in disguise. But that’s exactly what they get.

  1. Tron – Showtime

This cult favorite from 1982 stars Jeff Bridges and chronicles a young man’s journey into a virtual reality world of his own creation. Along the way, we meet some characters who personify some of the programmer’s codings.

  1. TRON: Legacy – Rent or buy from $2.99 and up.

Jeff Bridges returns for this 2010 sequel in which his character has been missing for the last 20 years. His son Sam winds up back in the virtual reality world, in the hopes of finding his father there. Olivia Wilde plays an isomorphic algorithm, a warrior with a love of literature and very human emotions.

  1. Robot and Frank – Rent or buy from $2.99 and up.

In one of Frank Langella’s more prominent roles, he plays an aging criminal who is gifted a robotic butler by his son. Meant for helping with simple tasks around the house, Frank decides the robot may have other uses. (Like, say, jewel heists, as one possible example.)

  1. Her – Netflix

In another film that hits a little too close to home, Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely man who develops an unhealthy relationship with his electronic assistant.

  1. Passengers – Starz

Michael Sheen as Arthur, the robot bartender, in Passengers is one of the more lovable androids to grace our screens in a while. A good secret keeper and confidante, as any bartender ought to be, his fate is left to the only two humans alive on the ship he services.

  1. Humans – Prime Video

This science fiction series from Channel 4 is one of the more unsettling television series I’ve ever laid eyes on. When very lifelike humanoid robots become a part of everyday life, there are consequences that no one could have envisioned.

  1. Westworld – HBO

HBO’s hit Westworld is exploring the plight of the A.I. being as none other really has before, making them front and center of the story.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy – Rent or buy for $2.99 and up

Tortured, manipulated, and seeking revenge, Nebula is Gamora’s cyborg sister in Guardians of the Galaxy. One of the coolest looking cyborgs I’ve ever seen, it’s hard not to feel sorry for her near the end. Luckily it would seem that Gamora feels the same way.

  1. Person of Interest – Netflix

Taking it back a page or two, the A.I. on Person of Interest is not the walking-talking kind, but rather a superintelligent computer that can tell the future. Pretty cool.

  1.  Black Mirror – Netflix

Like The Twilight Zone before it, Black Mirror explores all kinds of human terrors, up to and including our rocky and intrinsic relationship with technology and the futuristic idea of artificial intelligence.

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