Representations of Artificial Intelligence in Cinema

This web site is mostly a summary of the movies that have some form of Artificial Intelligence in them, eg. as part of the background context as well embodied in a main character. I have also proposed a classification that discriminates between true AI (ie. agents with artificial computational systems) versus replicated or augmented humans (androids or cyborgs) which use natural intelligence mechanisms. These issues are discussed more deeply in AI and Cinema - Does artificial insanity rule?.

The many instances of general TV programs and episodes (e.g. Lost in Space, Star Trek) are not listed to limit the focus to the most significant cinematic presentations of AI. I have also omitted most animations, manga, shorts and cartoons because of their lesser impact. Similarly, if books, comics, etc were included, then there would be an enormous list.

Movie Classification

There are three main groups of movies listed here, grouped according to the agent being based on:
  1. pure artificial computational agents,
  2. pure biological agents, and
  3. hybrids of biological material and electronics.
There are movies that have a robot in some way in the plot, but these are really either pretend robots or industrial automation devices. And, finally, there is the large group of movies not yet classified.

For the purposes of this list, only the first category is interesting, because these are true AI agents. Agents in this category have sensing and reasoning abilities that can be quite different than humans and have to be based on some sort of artificial knowledge structure and reasoning process. What I find most interesting is to examine how this mechanism is defined and what its capabilities are.

In the case of the pure biology-based agents (e.g. androids), the films usually ignore the nature of the computational mechanism. The sensing and reasoning mechanisms are effectively identical to humans. This allows the film to treat the behavior as if it were identical to humans (or nearly so, e.g. without free will). This category is largely ignored here because it says little about the nature of either artificial nor natural thought.

The hybrid case is a bit more complicated, and has two main variants: (1) mechanical bodies containing whole or partial human brains and (2) human brains augmented by electronic support. This category is also largely ignored here because, again, the agent reasoning processes and behavior models are largely human, and totally comprehensible.

Pure Artificial Computation Agents (i.e. computer based)

These are movies where an agent (either passive or active) has a reasoning mechanism based on an artificial reasoning mechanism. Both mobile (e.g. robot) and static (e.g. computer) agents are considered.

In the future, I might subdivide this list into "mindless" agents (e.g. automated soldier robot in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) and the "active" agents (e.g. C3PO in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace).

The key point to note is that most artificial agents have a static persona that does not evolve in response to events, human interaction or the environment. Notable exceptions to this are found in: D.A.R.Y.L., The Demon Seed, Electric Dreams, The Iron Giant, Making Mr. Right and Star Trek: Generations, where the motif is the urge to become human or truly alive. Finally, I think that the most interesting movies are: 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, Colossus: The Forbin Project and Dark Star, where the agents have their own distinct personality and the motif is how this interacts and evolves with regard to humans. These are agents that we might loosely say have some sort of mind (reflective, self-aware, self-interested) as compared to mindless machines (esp. killing/war machines).

One interesting issue is that the portrait of AI has not changed much even after all the research and publicity of the past 35 years, except in the slight increase in the number striving to extend themselves mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Here is the list of pure AI movies.

Pure Biological Computation Agents (e.g. androids)

These agents are synthetic, but for whom the reasoning engine is effectively identical to a human brain. This is often just a plot simplification device, but, in any case, does not say anything meaningful about the intellectual implications of a synthetic computational device. Being nearly human might lead to the movie saying something about the social implications, such as being a lower social caste or a slave purely because of origin.

If we think about it, an android's brain has to be constructed as well as its body. It will therefore need some built-in memory and reasoning mechanism, but these are unlikely to be identical to a human brain. As we know from computer science and neurobiology, the architecture determines or limits the types of computations possible. Thus, there are implications for the types of reasoning and behavior possible. These issues are usually not made explicit in the movies, although there is often the theme of the agent striving to become more human.

Androids are usually manufactured as adults, so there is thus the question of what memories to give them so that they are sufficiently functional. This issue does not usually arise except in Blade Runner, where the questions of "What is a real memory?" and "Does this make us human?" can be asked of us as well.

Here is the list of biological AI movies.

Hybrid Computation Agents (e.g. cyborgs)

This section contains agents that are essentially human and still have largely human reasoning processes, but who are enhanced in some way: E.g. mechanical body assistance, replacement mechanical body, neural implants/chips in the brain, etc.

Here is the list of hybrid computation agent movies.

Resources and acknowledgements

Many thanks to: Robert Ahrens, Elias Biris, Neil Brown, Tim Colles, Benjamin Curry, Louise Dennis, Jeremy Gow, Jim Molony, Gordon Reid.

Some other resources are:

Comments and suggestions to: , who is really Bob Fisher. This page is hosted at University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics.

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