An introduction to AI through film


This article is the first in a multi-part series on artificial intelligence, part of the ongoing “Artificially Enhanced Banking” Crowdstorm in collaboration with Deutsche bank. The series aims to provide context and inspiration for creatives exploring what AI can do for the banking industry.

Introduction to AI through Film

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What can movies teach us about AI?

Science fiction has always played a huge role in helping us see what’s coming. In the early days of telephone use, sci-fi writers wrote about video phones—an unfathomably futuristic dream at the time. A century later, the 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report famously predicted gesture-based computing, personalized ads and iris recognition. At the time, these were all far-out fantasies, but in just fourteen years they’ve become not only real, but commonplace.

Artificial Intelligence is exploding at the moment, thanks to a perfect storm of several recent technological advances. A staggering number of articles have been written on the topic in just a short amount of time as the industry buzzes about what the technology can do and what it will disrupt.

It would take at least a few weeks to chug through the hundreds of recent articles written on everything from deep neural networks to pattern recognition algorithms to automated reasoning. If multiple hours of scientific reading isn’t your bag, consider instead having a mini film festival on artificial intelligence to brush up on the topic.

Though movies won’t give you precise technical knowledge, what they can do is paint a portrait of artificial intelligence as it occupies our collective imagination, with all its fantasies, frustrations, and fears. For creatives at least, this type of cultural familiarity is more useful than backstage technological details.

Here are 5 films to get you started

They’re a mix of old and new films, and together they bring the promise and challenge of AI to life:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A gorgeous & dreamy story of a space expedition to Jupiter. The spaceship is run by Hal 9000, a sophisticated AI supercomputer who is charming at first, but reveals himself to be creepy and in fact murderous by the end of the film. Hal 9000 is the paradigmatic example of fictional AI characters who provoke fascination and fear in one of the earliest cautionary tales of AI gone terribly wrong.

Ex Machina (2015)

A chilling tale of a reclusive billionaire developing very lifelike (and very sexy) female robots in a high-tech secret bunker. A young programmer, Caleb, is brought in to administer a series of tests to a robot named Ava. Caleb and Ava appear to fall in love, however, it turns out that the Ava has other motivations. Ava is reminiscent of Hal 9000 in that she seems to have a mind of her own, manipulating and appearing to emote in a chillingly lifelike way. The film leaves viewers asking themselves: just what is the difference between a human brain and an identically-designed machine brain? What defines us as human when machines can replicate the entire content of our minds?

Her (2013)

This film depicts a future where humans form bonds with artificial intelligence companions who are designed to form relationships and evolve just like we do. Like 2001 and Ex Machina, the difficulties lay in the fact that despite being designed and created by people, our AI companions tend to act on an agenda of their own, paying no regard to the wishes of their owners and makers, perhaps displaying more humanity than we’d like. Her is a story of unrequited love between a lonely man (Theodore) and his operating system (Samantha). Despite literal ownership of his love interest, Theodore still finds love to be elusive as ever, coming with no guarantees.

Metropolis (1927)

This silent film set in 2027 tells the story of a high-tech city where workers live below ground while the wealthy enjoy life above. A young woman from the underground class (Maria) joins forces with a wealthy young man from above ground (Freder) to attempt to unite the two worlds in harmony. An inventor named Rotwang creates a robot, or maschinenmensch, to resurrect his lost love. The robot is later altered to resemble Maria (the aesthetic of the “false maria” robot would later become the inspiration for C3PO in Star Wars). False Maria creates much confusion and chaos about who’s who in a complicated hierarchy of characters. The film highlights an early collective anxiety around the loss of identity as instigated by AI cyborgs. Bonus: the entire film is available on YouTube.

The Terminator (1984)

The archetypal story of the darkest imaginable future: an all-out war between humans and machines. What if the robots (our very own creations, mind you) not only sabotage space missions and break men’s hearts, but actually join together to take over the planet? A human-looking cyborg (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels back in time from the war of 2029 to 1984 to assassinate someone named Sarah Connor. His army wants Sarah dead because they know that she will become mother to the soldier who can lead the humans to victory in the war against them. Sarah’s fate depends on which time-traveling army can find her first.

It’s interesting to consider how the basic themes haven’t changed much in more than a hundred years, all the way from Metropolis to Ex Machina. These films highlight feelings of panic about losing our identities, they question the definition of what makes us human, they’re about failed attempts to control destiny, playing god, and futile attempts to guarantee true love and companionship. Once you’ve seen these excellent films, you’ll be well-primed to understand the contemporary AI landscape in a much richer and more creative way and fit to start working on your ideas for the Artificially Enhanced Banking Crowdstorm.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series which will dive into just that—the who’s who and what’s what in the potential-filled, growing world of AI.

Katie Shelly

Katie Shelly is an experience designer with a 6 year track record in understanding people through human-centered design. She's currently earning her MA in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island.



    Great post Katie! Seen them all except Ex Machina, will have to check it a rainy summer day…

    Great stuff!!! Thanks for your post, Katie. In the same axis of Metropolis there are such films like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, where trying to define the point between the human soul ends and cybernetic machinery begins is a tough issue. Best regards =)

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