Implacable intelligences ("I must obey my programming!")
The problem with artificial intelligences is that they're artificial – and, often, not capable of the intuitive leaps of logic that us biological brainboxes can manage. These computers and robots are compelled to follow their programming, regardless of the consequences – often putting them in conflict with our heroes.
Deep Thought (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 2005)
Created by pan-dimensional hyperintelligent mice to calculate the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, Deep Thought takes a whopping 7.5 million years to reach its conclusion: 42. Now that's dedication.
The film version – because that's what we're dealing with – was designed to look like a person supporting a giant head – and if you look closely, you can spot an Apple logo tucked away in there, in reference to author Douglas Adams' unabashed Cupertino fanboyism.
MU-TH-UR 6000 (Alien)
The spaceship Nostromo's central computer, "Mother" is responsible for the well-being of the ship's crew while they're in hypersleep. When it picks up an unidentified signal that's possibly of alien origin, though, all that goes out the window; it teams up with an android hidden among the crew to capture an alien life form and return it to Earth; the crew are expendable under Special Order 937. In a film filled with Freudian imagery, the computer's name is no accident; by placing the needs of its corporate masters above the safety of its crew, Mother is failing to meet the most basic requirement of its name.
To ram the point home, the Mother mainframe and the crew's hypersleep chamber were deliberately designed to look rather clinical, in contrast to the rest of the rather tatty Nostromo interiors. When the crew first awake, it's in a womblike, serene setting that's set to be rudely disrupted by the arrival of the alien.
More after the break...
ED-209 (RoboCop, 1987)
The definition of implacable, the Series 209 Enforcement Droid will gun you down even if you do comply with its ultimatums. It certainly looks the part, even if its programming is a bit faulty – but then, that's the point.
The film's designers worked on the assumption that Omni Consumer Products would take the same approach to making a war machine that they did to cars; it's covered in flashy details and cool-looking vents that don't actually do anything, while the machine intelligence controlling the robot is a bug-riddled bodge job.
For the film, ED-209 was realised using two techniques; a full-size fibreglass, plastic and wood prop that couldn't move, and a stop-motion puppet animated by Phil Tippett, using the Dynamation technique pioneered by Ray Harryhausen.
AUTO (WALL-E, 2008)
Although the red light at the centre of its steering wheel clearly recalls 2001's malevolent HAL 9000, the AI in control of the Axiom spaceship is just following orders. Directive A-113, to be precise – an order stating that Earth is uninhabitable, and the human population of the Axiom must never be allowed to return to Earth.
When robots WALL-E and EVE recover a plant from Earth – proving that it supports life – AUTO devotes all its resources to tracking them down and destroying the foliage. Whether AUTO is rigidly following orders, or whether it’s developed a personality of its own, is open to question – after all, WALL-E and EVE have, and AUTO’s efforts to stop them take on an increasingly frantic tone over the course of the film.
Being a Pixar film, WALL-E slips in a few sly references to Apple – AUTO’s voice is provided by Apple’s own text-to-speech system, MacinTalk.
Alpha-60 (Alphaville, 1965)
The sentient computer in control of Jean-Luc Godard’s dystopian sci-fi city, Alphaville, is the ultimate representation of order opposed to individualism. It’s an all-seeing presence, spouting out logical aphorisms in an eerie voice that wavers between mechanical and organic (supplied by a man whose larynx had been replaced by a voice box).
Into Alpha 60’s logical paradise walks secret agent Lemmy Caution (yes, really) – a brash individual who’s on a mission to destroy the computer and tear down Alphaville’s mindless, thought-controlled society. Fittingly, it’s poetry that destroys the computer in the end (though, oddly, many of its quotes are lifted from poet Jorge Luis Borges).