Envisioning the Future: Which AI Movie Depiction Is Most Accurate?

When it comes to Sci-Fi movies, artificial intelligence is one of Hollywood’s go-to themes. But how accurate are some of pop culture’s most well-known AI creations? This article evaluates the technical feasibility of the AIs depicted in Blade Runner, Ex Machina, Her and 2001: A Space Odyssey. TL;DR—we're years to decades away from the AI we see in movies.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

When it comes to Sci-Fi movies, artificial intelligence (AI) is one of Hollywood’s go-to themes. As a technology of which we’re still yet to fully realize the potential, scriptwriters and technology doomsdayers have been busy predicting a time when AI spins out of our control, and we’re forced to welcome our robot overlords.

But how accurate are some of pop culture’s most well-known AI creations? Communications provider Plusnet sought to find out by asking Peter Scott, an author on AI and former computer scientist at NASA, to grade the AI predictions of some of Sci-Fi greatest movies.

Blade Runner

Grade: F

Ridley Scott’s 80s Sci-Fi masterpiece may be held in the highest esteem in film circles, but when it comes to how well it predicts the direction of artificial intelligence, experts find it wanting. Set in 2019, the film is making a prediction 37 years in the future (45 years if you count the release date of the original book on which it’s based).

Now that we’ve hit that year, Scott (Peter, not Ridley), explained how closely the replicants of “Blade Runner” are to the reality of today’s tech:

“’Blade Runner’ depicts an android so convincingly human that I can’t even tell that it isn’t human itself. This requires a level of biophysical engineering that is far beyond anything currently predicted: the capability to create a replica of a human body, all the blood, bones and guts but containing an artificial mind. More than any level of artificial intelligence, this feat throws replicants far into the future.”

Asked when replicants could be walking the earth waiting for Harrison Ford to take them down, Scott said 2300.

Ex Machina

Grade: D-

Faring somewhat better is Alex Garland’s Sci-Fi hit “Ex Machina.” Released in 2014 (and set somewhere in the near future), the film has the benefit of over three decades of technological progression when compared to Blade Runner. That may be why we see a society where fully developed AIs are yet to integrate themselves.

Still, Peter Scott found Ava’s (the film’s AI character) appearance to be the most unrealistic part of the film:

“The hardest part of creating Ava is engineering a look-alike face. Unlike the replicants in ‘Blade Runner,’ she does not claim to have human biology, but making a human head simulacrum indistinguishable from the real thing requires non-existent technology for micro-muscle movements and moisture delivery through nanopores over the whole surface including a balletic tongue.”

“Also, unlike in ‘Blade Runner,’ Ava’s mind is not depicted as a drop-in replacement for a human being’s, but instead, she is aware that she is not human. So, there is no requirement that her AI be engineered to reproduce all the quirks of human psychology.”

Scott’s prediction of when it might come true: 2100.

Her

Grade: C+

As with “Ex Machina,” Spike Jonze’s 2013 drama, “Her,” benefitted from being set not long after its release (it’s believed to be set in 2020). With less time comes less risk, allowing “Her” to receive a passable C+ grade. Again, the tech has been downgraded when compared to “Blade Runner” and “Ex Machina.” This time the AI is concealed purely within a smartphone-like device, with no physical appearance. Given these were Peter Scott’s major criticisms of the tech predictions above, it’s no surprise “Her” is closer to reality:

“By keeping the embodiment of Samantha (the AI character in ‘Her’) virtual, the writers of ‘Her’ avoided the need for advanced biophysical engineering and kept the technology entirely within the realm of software. All the hardware depicted in this movie currently exists. While we are several major breakthroughs away from developing machine consciousness, breakthroughs in software do not happen on predictable schedules and often happen much faster than expected.”

Scott said we could see AI with the intelligence of Samantha as soon as 2030.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Grade: C+

Released more than half a century ago, “2001: A Space Odyssey” features an AI system that realizes our worst fears of the technology. What happens when conscious supercomputers calculate that human life is expendable in pursuit of wider objectives? Director Stanley Kubrick crafted a masterpiece from this central plotline, exposing the alarming repercussions from handing control over to intelligent AI. As a prediction of the future, 2001 is a mixture of hits and misses.

“We have already surpassed the level of HAL (the AI in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey) in the abilities of our AI to both express and read human emotion. The biggest problem with HAL as a prediction of the future was setting it in the year 2001 when we had not yet even achieved continuous speech recognition. It is telling that 2001 shows us how powerful HAL is by showing him beating a human at chess. We now know that was a much easier accomplishment (achieved in 1997) than any level of artificial general intelligence.”

Looking Backward and Forward

When it comes to relieving our Sci-Fi movie itch, artificial intelligence ticks a lot of boxes. It’s a technology that we know enough about to understand, but don’t know enough about to allow us to create mysterious and often dangerous predictions of its true potential. And with films like “Alita: Battle Angel” and a “Terminator” reboot to come, we’re set for some more visions of the future in 2019.