In 1637 René Descartes, coined the term ‘Cogito ergo sum’ which is generally considered to mean ‘I think, therefore, I am’. The idea of self-awareness was explored centuries later by Alan Turing, who examined the concept of artificial intelligence and the idea that a machine could think for itself, developing the now famous ‘Turing Test’ which was intended to detect the presence of machine logic in an interrogation scenario.
Nowadays we are all familiar with the notion of machine intelligence, as science fiction has explored the idea for decades, from Karel Kapeks 1920’s play ‘R.U.R’, to Isaac Asimov's three laws of Robotics and his supercomputer ‘Multivac’, through endless famous incarnations of robot characters on film and TV, such as ‘Robbie’, ‘Colossus’ and more recently with Stanley Kubricks ‘A.I’ .
Technological advances at home have almost caught up with science fiction, video games are littered with incidences of game based artificial intelligence and robotic and androidal characters. Microsoft recently introduced a phone based ‘assistant’ to rival Apple's groundbreaking ‘Siri’ –voice activated applications which respond in the fashion of a human operator. Microsoft tapped into its hugely popular Xbox game community to use the name of the main character from one of its largest franchises, the resident artificial intelligence, ‘Cortana’ from the ‘Halo’ game series. I remember way back in 2001, when I had a mobile phone on the Orange network, that I had a 'personal assistant' on the contract then, by the name of 'Wildfire'. Back in 2005, Orange pulled the plug on the service due to its lack of uptake!
Cortana is represented in Halo as a holographic construct in the form of a nubile young woman with a sassy attitude and powerful intellect, carried around the game environment by the booted and suited Master Chief, the mechanised transhuman alpha male who is under the players control. Microsoft originally named the application after the gaming heroine as an in-house joke, but due to the popularity of the game and the character herself, the name was retained, along with the eerie blue hue on the interface.
Possibly one of the most infamous instances of fictional A.I is the paranoid supercomputer in Kubrick’s masterwork ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. HAL 9000 is the coolly calculating operator of the Discovery mission to Jupiter, overseeing all operational parameters of the flight with an unwavering gaze from his cyclopean red eye.
HAL was revealed to have been named by writer Arthur C. Clarke, from the letters immediately following the acronym of the then computer giant; IBM – H,i – A,b – L,m and today the groundbreaking company still leads in the development of machine intelligence with WATSON, its flagship cognitive technology system, for analysing data.
As a big fan of sci-fi and robots in general, I was amazed to see the new film ‘Morgan’ – ostensibly about a new form of artificial intelligence in the form of an android child – was being advertised by means of a trailer which had been composed and edited itself, by an A.I.
IBM tasked Watson to analyse the film and break down the scenes by virtue of their emotional impact and tension and then transform the findings into a cinematic trailer. Whilst it’s easy to get drawn into the action within the trailer, it’s difficult to tell that it was actually edited without direct human intervention and is actually quite good. Some of the edits are very harsh and abrupt, but overall, the effect is tantalising and sinister.
It’s interesting to note the intervention of technology based applications to perform duties which would ordinarily be carried out by humans, but there’s a certain poetry about the use of an A.I to advertise a work about an A.I. I’m sure that before long we will be seeing complete films and other artworks being produced without human influence, as machine intelligence becomes increasingly powerful.
Lets hope the developments don’t lead us into the realms of science fiction nightmares such as ‘The Forbin Project’, ‘Demon Seed’ or ‘The Matrix’…
… which reminds me, I need to ask Siri to book my cinema tickets.