Fact-checking 5 of the most famous AI movies

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The movies are a magical place where the wildest of fantasies can come to life. You can follow the journey of knights and princesses, robots fighting intergalactic battles and even see what it was like if we could bring dinosaurs back to life.

But what about movies that depict artificial intelligence (AI)? They range from impossible and out of reach, to accessible technology that we have now or could use in the future.

Few people really know much about AI except for what they see in the movies. The average person doesn’t understand the difference between deep learning and machine learning, but they could tell you that the Terminator was evil and stemmed from AI gone rogue (which is often where the general fear of AI stems from).

Hollywood builds a great story around it, but just how much of it is based in truth? Like most things, there are some kernels but a lot is added for cinematic effect.

Let’s take a look at five of the most popular AI-based movies and separate fact from fiction.

The Matrix

The Matrix is a classic turn of the century sci-fi that urged people to start thinking about reality, specifically about the possibility of a computer-simulated reality. The movie depicts a dystopian future in which machines rule and have created the Matrix to harness the energy of humans.

It made many fans question the nature of our reality with some even believing that we live in something similar.

One of the more famous Matrix believers, Elon Musk, even said, “There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality.” Musk and other enthusiasts believe in the “simulation hypothesis,” which is the idea that the world as we know it is not real and is instead a huge virtual reality program. Think the video game Sims but with a little more free will.

There are actually two anonymous billionaires who believe in this theory so much that they’re funding technology to break humanity out of the Matrix. Some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful and intelligent people believe in the Matrix, but what does science say?

A 2017 Oxford study by theoretical physicists says it’s highly unlikely – if not impossible – that we’re living in a virtual reality. The main reasoning is that there’s just not enough material in the known universe to create a computer with enough power to host such a large-scale simulation.

The scientists tested this by trying to create a Matrix of their own that was only a portion of the size of our physical universe. As more particles were added to increase the size of the virtual world, the more complex it became and the more computing power was required.

They concluded that there are not enough atoms in the universe to create a computer capable of a creating a simulation the size of our universe. Sorry, Elon.

Her

This 2013 film depicts a man in the near future who falls in love with his own customized personal AI assistant (one of millions in the world stemming from the same core system). At its core, it’s a story that raises questions about human-machine relationships. The AI assistants can hold real conversations and adapt to its user. (Spoiler alert): The movie ends will all of AI assistants upgrading themselves and merging until they’ve become “hyperintelligent” and leave the humans to a place beyond the physical world.

I would argue that this is one of the more plausible AI storylines since some levels of this technology is in development and the social groundwork is starting to be laid.

Due to the recent technological breakthroughs in deep learning, machines are becoming increasingly better at holding human-like conversations through the use of natural language processing (NLP).

While technology is not quite to the point where AI can hold deep meaningful conversations like the main AI character, Samantha, we are seeing headway. For example, Google’s assistant can hold phone conversations that nearly replicate that of a human. A few phone calls Google demonstrated was so human-like that not even the person on the other line was able to detect that it was an automated call (it even used filler words like ‘um’).

According to Accenture, 46 percent of Americans currently use a “voice-enabled digital assistant” and by 2021, Ovum predicts that there will be more AI assistants than people on Earth. It’s not hard to imagine that we’d become attached to them.

Many people already feel a sense of companionship with their personal assistants. We call them by name (Siri, Alexa) and have personified them with fun (automated) personalities, even customizing their accents.

Some companies are even creating robots specifically to be used as companions or partners. In Japan, people can marry anime characters through the use of virtual reality (VR).

However, AI has not yet reached a point in which it can hold freeform conversations that have not been programmed or scripted.

Ex Machina

This 2015 sci-fi follows a programmer who’s been instructed by his boss to give the Turing test (a test that compares human intelligence to computer intelligence) to a human-like robot. Caleb, the programmer, develops an attraction to the robot, Ava, that seems to have conscious thought and acts out of free will.

While many factors of this movie are a little too far from reality to be taken seriously, there is one aspect of Ava that is feasible: how she gains her knowledge. Ava’s intelligence comes from “BlueBook,” a fictional search engine much like Google. She can collect information from what people share online and build her behavior accordingly.

In real life, every search query, social media post, click, purchase or basically any action that we take online is tracked and stored. Our online behavior can shed light on who we are and what we are interested in. In this way, Ava’s learning model is not far off from those being used by artificial intelligence engineers today.

But Ava’s consciousness is something that is far fetched for any existing technology. Science has achieved artificial specific intelligence in that machines are smart enough to perform a highly specific task or problem. What we have not achieved though is artificial general intelligence (AGI), which is when AI achieves the same level of intelligence as humans. And while AI companies and developers are racing to get there, experts guess that this will not be achieved until at least 2060.

Her physical presence is even more fiction than fact. Scientists have created an artificial skin that’s similar to humans which can sense touch and can be grafted onto machines. But they have not created a machine that can move as fluidly as Ava can.

A robotic hand just recently learned how to juggle a cube after being trained for 100 computer years. But robots still can’t walk in a way that mimics human patterns, nor can they perform simple human movements like getting into a car.

There is headway being made in robotic bionics though. For example, Disney recently created a bot that has incredibly fluid motions, but the movement is controlled by a human with a video game-like controller. And Boston Dynamics is creating four-legged robots that are increasing in speed and agility.

Terminator

This classic franchise depicts what could happen if AI were to gain self-awareness and try to preserve itself at all costs. The first film in 1984 shows the original Terminator being sent back in time by Skynet, a highly-advanced AI, to carry out various tasks such as kill specific targets such as Resistance leaders before they come to power, aid in the creation of other terminators, build machinery and set up safe zones.

There are some parts that may be true in the very, very distant future, however, most of the themes (aka AI overlords set to rule over the human race) are little too far-fetched.

As I called out earlier, we are far from achieving AGI, which essentially what the self-aware Skynet is considered. As Business Insider puts it, “The issue is not self-awareness — it’s awareness, period. We could make a machine to be ‘self-aware’ in a technical sense, and it wouldn’t possess any more human-level intelligence than a computer that’s programmed to play the piano.”

Take Sophia the robot for example. Sophia is a human-like bot that has stirred up a cultural frenzy. She can hold nearly-human conversations, says she has goals and aspirations and has even been declared a citizen of Saudi Arabia. Sounds like a robot that has made it to consciousness, right? Wrong.

Sophia operates off of three systems: a scripting software, a smart chat system that lets her respond to keywords and a system that grounds what she says with logic and experience. Only because of these systems is she able to perform the tasks she can, most of which consist of talking through programmed scripts.

Sophia’s creators have even said that Sophia achieving AGI is still in its “infancy” and that they’re not working toward that just yet. Technology has a long way to go before it’s remotely possible for even an advanced bot to achieve AGI.

As far as robots seeking to takeover or demolish the human race there’s one theory that was written in the 1940’s by a science fiction author called the Three Laws of Robotics. Many believe they are the truths for all tools and machines that have ever been built, including the impending conscious AI system. These laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Scientists and futurists have mixed reviews on machines achieving AGI. For example, people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking think this will be the end of humanity as we know it.

I like to go with the opinion of Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and esteemed futurist. In 1999, he made predictions about technology that he expected to see over the next 100 years. For the predictions he made that have already passed, 102 out of 108 were correct or nearly correct.

One of his most profound theories is around technological singularity – the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence (ASI) will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.

He predicts that the by the year 2045 will have reached singularity and by that time technology and machines will have taken over all development of new AI. They’ll begin innovating other tools and systems so quickly that humans won’t be able to understand what’s going on.

Could machines wipe out humans after they reach singularity? Kurzweil says no and that he’s actually looking forward to it. He argues that at this point, machines will actually help humans be smarter and better at everything they already do saying, “We’re going to be able to meet the physical needs of all humans. We’re going to expand our minds and exemplify these artistic qualities that we value.”

What the Terminator may have right though is how they are programmed to carry out very specific tasks – very similar to the bots we have today.

Star Wars

This is the ultimate sci-fi franchise that excited our minds in the 1970’s and continues to bring us intergalactic drama and wonder in 2018. While each trilogy focuses on a different set of characters in varying timelines, the overarching theme is set in a “galaxy far, far away” where forces of good fight against forces of evil.

This is a fictional theme with a very fictional plot line. It doesn’t take place on Earth or anywhere near it so we can’t expect much to cross over into reality. Don’t expect technology to create stormtrooper uniforms or the Death Star (though I hear lightsabers are a real thing now).

Though when it comes to AI there is one example that is close to fact: droids. The most memorable droid characters are, of course, the humanoid bot C-3PO and lovable R2-D2 and BB-8, but there’s many more with specified jobs (shout back to Terminator). There’s pilot droids, medical droids, assassin and battle droids and scout droids that all stick to the duties they were programmed for.

These AI-enhanced droids work alongside humans much of the time. However, most of these AI bots only do the tasks they’ve been built for or follow orders given by the humans they belong to.

While not quite at the Start Wars extreme – this culture of robots and humans coexisting and working together is something that is very likely in the near-distant future.

People are already starting to work with AI assistants in their jobs today, so it is very likely that as technology progresses, we’ll see even more integration. And what does that mean? Human skills such as empathy and creativity will be left to humans while robots will handle the more repetitive (or if you will, robotic) processes.

For example, our sales AI assistant Robin helps salespeople get their busy work done by automating the mundane tasks they are often required to do – letting sales reps focus on what their good at – selling.

Tell us about your favorite AI movies and whether you consider them to be fact or fiction. Tweet us @saleshero_ai!

By Jessica Munday

Content Marketing Specialist at SalesHero, writing about technology, sales, AI and the future of business!

Published Sep 19, 2018

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