AI is a complicated topic that nonetheless finds its way into a huge variety of movies.
Whether you’re a lover of drama or you just like comedy, there are probably movies in that genre that include AI in some way.
One of the most interesting ways to use AI is as a conduit for learning about morality. This ranking of AI in movies includes AI whose morality — or lack thereof — constitutes a huge part of the plot.
2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL 9000 is potentially the most well-known evil AI in movies. Who doesn’t remember his creeping, cool, “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that”? But even though he’s clearly the antagonist, he’s also an important part of the morality theme in the movie. Many movie critics have noted that HAL, an AI, exhibits human traits like jealousy and paranoia, while the human astronauts function in a nearly mechanical fashion. This reversal, eventually leading to everyone’s death in various ways, really underscores morality on both sides.
VIKI, the mainframe in I, Robot, is the film’s main antagonist — the climax of the movie has to do with attempting to kill her. But why is she the antagonist? In fact, she’s attempting to save humanity in the future by killing certain humans in the present. Even Del Spooner, the main character, admits that her logic makes sense, but that her plan is “too heartless.” She’s not evil just because she wants to enact violence: she’s evil because she has no care for the people she’s planning to kill. That brings up some interesting questions about the “greater good,” expanded upon in the movie itself.
This sleeper success focuses almost exclusively on character development. One of the important components of the movie is the fact that no one is really “evil” or “good.” Ava, the AI character, ends up leaving another character for dead because she wants to leave the apartment in which she’s confined. Is that evil, because she doesn’t help someone? Or is it good, because she needs to to live on her own? There aren’t any answers in this hard-hitting movie, and that’s why it was so successful.
The Replicants in Blade Runner are realistic enough to fool the everyday passerby into thinking that they’re real people. Some of them even have false memories implanted so that they believe they’re real people as well. The question in Blade Runner is largely one of humanity. What makes a human? How human does someone have to believe they are before they can actually be human? Their morality is essentially up for debate.
Even more so than Blade Runner, RoboCop directly tackles the concept of humanity. RoboCop has gone through a number of different iterations, each one slightly different, but the main core of the story has always been the same: a story about a man who becomes an android. As that android starts to recover his human emotions, the question surfaces: can a person lose their humanity and become an AI? Can an AI struggle back to becoming a human? Through the lens of an action movie, RoboCop asks a lot of difficult questions.
Artificial intelligence isn’t remotely as advanced as it is in the movies, but that doesn’t stop people from imagining increasingly more amazing worlds for their AI to inhabit. Whether you’ve already watched all these movies or you haven’t watched any, it’s always worth it to revisit them and think more about morality in both humans and AI.