What Hollywood Gets Right and Wrong About Artificial Intelligence

Friday, 17 July 2015 - 11:25AM
Technology
Science of Sci-Fi
Friday, 17 July 2015 - 11:25AM
What Hollywood Gets Right and Wrong About Artificial Intelligence
There's been a resurgence in artificial intelligence, both in actual scientific research and Hollywood-ized speculative fiction. But where some movies are relatively accurate, many take significant liberties with the truth of artificial intelligence, even in regards to predictions for the future. Science Mag asked several AI experts which movies get artificial intelligence "right," at least relatively speaking, and they picked out a few iconic movies to name winners and losers, as well as a few recurring things Hollywood gets right and wrong about artificial intelligence.

Mind Uploading


In Chappie, as well as countless other films, a human's consciousness is downloaded onto a digital file and uploaded into a robot, allowing for effective immortality. This is one of the most common tropes in AI literature, and also one of the most inaccurate, according to Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach:

"It's pure speculation that has no basis in fact whatsoever," said Russell. "It's nonsense."

There are some theorists who disagree with him, as computer scientist Ray Kurzweil famously contended that we would one day be able to achieve digital immortality. But Randy Goebel, a computer scientist at the University of Alberta, joined Russell in dissenting: "Kurzweil is just plain wrong," he said.

Autonomous changes in agenda


In I, Robot, changes in robots' behaviors are explained by an AI's decision to implement the Zeroth Law, which modifies Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics and states, "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." But according to the experts, there is no evidence that a robot would ever be able to spontaneously develop new agendas, as they follow a static set of programming.

Opening quote
"There are mathematical theories that prove a perfectly rational goal-achieving agent has no motivation to change its own goals," said Marcus Hutter, a computer scientist at the Australian National University.
Closing quote


In that sense, the Spielberg film A.I. is actually realistic in its portrayal of artificial intelligence, as the robot played by Haley Joel Osment follows one directive for the entire film:

"This robot boy wants to be loved. If you design this robot child in such a way, it will have these desires and it will act in such a way," said Hutter. "Since the aim of the company was to produce artificial children, it makes a lot of sense that this AI behaved as it did."

The lone genius


While it may be possible to achieve the singularity at some point, it wouldn't happen as the result of a brain wave from a single, isolated genius sitting in his basement. It is such a monumental task, it would need to be achieved over a long period of time, building off the research of many scientists. But in Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac's character develops artificial intelligence mostly by himself in an isolated mansion, and in A.I., this feat is achieved in only a year and a half.

"I cringe when I watch that, starting from scratch in 18 months, they achieve a conscious robot," said Hutter. "And then there's a button you press to turn on the consciousness module."

Why would a machine want to become mortal?


This is a little more subjective, but the scientists can't fathom why a truly rational being would ever want to "be a real boy," as portrayed in films like Bicentennial Man. So although it was blasted by critics, and has that mind uploading problem, the Johnny Depp vehicle Transcendence is actually much more realistic in this sense, as the A.I. remains embedded in the internet rather than attempting to gain a physical body. 

"Once you have the ability to change the mind or the brain you can also get rid of a lot of evolutionary artifacts," said Hutter. "I don't think they'll care so much about becoming like humans."

Can robots have feelings?



Films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey deal with artificial intelligence in a much more plausible way (which may be one reason why both movies have become classics), in the sense that they are both ambiguous about whether robots can have feelings. Blade Runner makes it clear that consciousness is difficult to define in humans, and would therefore be equally difficult to define in organic androids that are "built up similarly."

Opening quote
"How do I know that you have feelings?" Hutter said. "I have no way of really knowing that. I just assume that because you are built up similarly to me and I know that I have emotions."
Closing quote


And in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dave is asked whether Hal is actually sentient or not, Dave says, "There's really no way to know." Russell expressed similar sentiments:

Opening quote
"It could be that we end up just shrugging our shoulders," said Russell.
Closing quote
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