It’s often been said that to err is human, but to really mess things up you need a computer.
Anyone who has ever had to create a table in Microsoft Word and then export it to another piece of software will know the carnage that can indeed take place.
But film makers and storytellers throughout the (modern) ages have seen a more extreme side to human/computer relations. Whereas computers are the devices most likely to cause a perfectly rational person to pull out all of their hair in frustration and immediately drive barefooted to Edinburgh, we can also have a similar effect on our electronic counterparts.
Here are a few examples then of when computers go bonkers…often because of us.
1) Saturn 3
Life was just fine and dandy for Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett Majors on their little outpost in Saturn’s shadow. That was until Harvey Keitel arrived with a very shiny, giant robot that has dubious qualifications as an optometrist. It’s not long until the sight of Majors in her best 90s Cher music video outfits drives Keitel wild with space lust, a problematic thing as he regularly connects his brain to the robot. Soon it’s a case of running down dark corridors, desperately searching for airlocks, and much sweating in boiler suits. It’s not exactly a classic film, but stands as a healthy reminder not to let crazy men mind meld with mobile death machines while staring at one of Charlie’s Angels in her pants. Yep, that old story.
There’s something to be said for those who dedicate themselves to their professions. It takes a certain strength of character to keep working diligently away at your desk when those who are meant to help you have deserted their stations. That is of course unless your job somehow morphs into conducting deadly experiments on unwitting humans. To those who have played either of the two excellent Valve titles Portal or Portal 2, you’ll know just how painful this jobs-worth attitude can be. GlaDOS the calmly voiced computer is your companion through the labyrinth of the Aperture Science laboratories, guiding you through a collection of elaborate and fiendish puzzles trying on several occasions to see you burned alive, fall from great heights, or shot to pieces by friendly killer robot sentries. Oh yes…and the cake? Don’t count on it.
3) Demon Seed
As we saw in Saturn 3 the human labido can do strange damage to a computer’s circuits. But sometimes it doesn’t even need a sexually frustrated Harvey Keitel to make things go very wrong. In the 1977 movie Demon Seed a very advanced home computer – as in it actually controls pretty much everything in a home – is left alone all day with only a Julie Christie to stare at. It isn’t long before the drudgery of maintaining washing machines and radiator thermostats causes the electronic colossus Proteus, to want more out of life. Well, life itself if we’re being totally accurate. Of course to make this happen he’ll need some kind of human interface, that’ll be Christie again. Needless to say she isn’t exactly fond of the idea and only concedes to a romantically shot disturbing sexual assault after Proteus has held her captive in the house for a few days and almost cooked her by maxing out the central heating. Ever the charmer that fella. A truly, truly weird and troubling film that will ensure Siri remains firmly locked inside your phone for years to come.
4) Electric Dreams
After a healthy dose of mind bleach helps us recover from Demon Seed, we can turn our attentions to a more innocent tale of love, computers, cellos, and Georgio Moroder. Electric Dreams tells the story of a young, single man who purchases one of these new fangled computer things at the beginning of the eighties. His lack of social graces is matched only by a complete absence of technical acumen, so it’s lucky for him that after an accident with a champagne bottle and the insides of his PC the device suddenly comes to life and starts performing musical duets with his sexy next door neighbour. A romance ensues, built entirely on falsehood it should be pointed out, and the PC gets jealous when the loved up owner no longer wants to play. Cue loud electro pop music playing at all hours, strange dream sequences, and the PCs final ascension into the heavens, or rather the radio waves. Life was so simple back then.
Computers are really just children of the digital era. They seek guidance, boundaries, interaction, and are better than most adults at games. This becomes a rather significant issue when the game you want to play involves real nuclear missiles, the cold war, and Ally Sheedy in sweatpants. WOPR, the military strategic computer that nearly wipes out the entire world in an effort to best Matthew Broderick in a global game of Ultimate Risk, is merely a pawn in the young lad’s attempts to impress Sheedy out of aforementioned pants. Still, it’s comforting to know that nearly thirty years later there are still teenage boys out there with repressed sexual drives, hacking skills, and access to the internet. Hmmm, maybe this NSA thing wasn’t so bad after all?
This list is far from exhaustive, but I was interested in what you guys thought were the best examples of humans and computers needing to just sit down and talk to each other before someone does something they regret? Please post your ideas and examples in the comments below. Maybe we can all avoid a thermonuclear war or another song by Phil Oakey if we get the discussion going here.