Mark A. Carter
 

ANATOMY of The Machine

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter writes a literary movie Anatomy of the film: The Machine, in the context of the book and the film journey from clumsy robots, mad computers, demented replicants, and lethal terminators to the first living, sentient android. But, are we ready to accept an electromechanical life form?

We human beings all have an innate need to reproduce. It's only natural to create little creatures who look like us, talk like us, and walk like us, and who will eventually become the next generation. It's in our DNA to do so. But sometimes things go terribly wrong. We don't talk about these malformed human beings, these mutations. But they do indeed occur in the natural world and, of course, with human beings. But we usually deny them. Human beings are good at denial.

But Science Fiction begs us to speculate on these unusual possibilities and others. It compels us to ask, what if? And stories are born that are quite often more horrific than reality and sometimes not. After all, art imitates life and life imitates art.

So, a branch of Science Fiction concerns itself with narcissistic creators and their creations, with man himself playing God, whether he be sculptor, wood carver, doctor, or engineer. And the goal is always to create life, some sort of intellectual, or mechanical, or physical life that is either a female or male version of himself.

It began innocently enough with Ovid and his poem Metamorphoses where Pygmalion sculpts the perfect embodiment of womanhood in marble. He names her Galatea. He falls in love with his creation. And, of course, Aphrodite, taking pity on the mere mortal, brings his creation to life. Similarly, in The Adventures of Pinocchio, written in 1883 by Carlo Collodi, Geppetto, for want of a son, carves a marionette out of wood and calls him Pinocchio. The marionette dreams of becoming a boy as much as Geppetto wishes that the marionette was his son. And eventually, the Fairy with the Turquoise Hair grants them their wish.

But this line of Science Fiction takes a dark, deep, and macabre turn under the pen of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who conceived of sewing together dead tissue and shocking it back to life with electricity in her 1818 horror classic Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. For the first time in literature, the creation was not brought to life through the intervention of supernatural powers. It came back to life by man's will alone. Shelly suggests that there was a price to pay for man playing God, and much like Prometheus, who gave man fire and was punished by God, Victor had overstepped the bounds of deific propriety by bringing dead flesh back to life and would incur God's wrath too. And so, suffering guilt, Victor abandons his project and rejects his monstrous creation. Victor, in fact, hates it. But his hatred only serves to drive the creature insane because all creatures want to be loved by their creator, and sends it on a quest to kill everything Victor loves.

Metropolis

Brigitte Helm as robot Maria.

Directed by Fritz Lang.

© 1927 Paramount.

The Victorian Period took the mechanisms once the sole domain of Swiss watch makers and applied their craft to music boxes, animated cuckoo clocks, and mechanical mouse bands performing canned music. And from that hubris sprang the idea of mechanical men. The current retro movement idealizing the Victorian penchant for mechanization is currently known as Steampunk. In 1920, Czech Science Fiction writer Karel Capek introduced the world to the word robot in his play: Rossum's Universal Robots or R.U.R. And, for the first time, mechanical men were seen as a possible future replacement for men or possibly as the mechanical slaves of men. In 1927, Fritz Lang put the concept of robots on film with his German expressionist, Science Fiction, dystopian epic Metropolis. But here he named his robot Maria and, like Pygmalion, there is the suggestion that the hero was trying to create a robotic woman to be more mate than slave. Alas.

I, Robot

by Isaac Asimov

© 1950 Gnome Press.

The 1939 fantasy film Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, awoke us to the very real need for intelligence in our mechanical contraptions, as heard in the Scarecrow's lament, "If I only had a brain." And intelligent robots were imagined one year later by Isaac Asimov.

In Asimov's 1940 short story named "Liar!" he introduces us to the necessary intelligent robotic hardware called the positronic brain, and to the mandatory read only memory burned into every robot brain, namely the Three Laws of Robotics, attributed to Asimov but who he attributes to his publisher John W. Campbell. (See The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, p. 44.) And in 1950, Gnome Press published a collection of Asimov robot short stories entitled I, Robot. And nothing has been the same since. Each of Asimov's stories deals with scenarios involving humans and robots, in which the Three Laws, sometimes called Asimov's Laws, are applied and serve to solve the situation. And, in 1964, Asimov published a second book of stories called The Rest of the Robots.

Note: the collection of stories is not to be confused with a short story called "I, Robot" written previously by Eando (Earl and Otto) Binder.

The Three Laws of Robotics are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with First or Second Law.

Nowhere in his stories does Asimov show robots going berserk, as Hollywood is so fond of depicting. Just as Victor Frankenstein is depicted inaccurately by Hollywood as an infamous mad doctor, when he was actually, in Mary Shelley's 1823 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, a first year university drop out, flunky, and loser dabbling in pseudo-science, Hollywood has always depicted robots as evil and menacing both in body and mind, something to be used to our advantage, but always something to be controlled.

In the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, based on the 1940 short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, the U.S. Army surrounds a flying saucer, points weapons at it, and shoots the alien ambassador Klaatu, as he is abound to present a gift. And in the typical U. S. Army policy of we are allowed to shot you but you aren't allowed to shoot us when the alien robot Gort's reaction is to incinerate the weapons of the army that are pointed at him, and thoroughly giving them a scare, the army suffers that familiar lack of control that they hate. Perhaps they also suffer from a bit of future shock, although in 1951 Toffler hadn't written about it yet. So, they encase him in plastic stronger than steal. Please. Give me a break. These are aliens. They are advanced. Duh? Of course, the army doesn't get it. They don't realize how advanced the alien technology is. The army exists in a world of denial. As Klaatu reveals at the end of the story, if Gort wanted to, he could reduce the Earth to a cinder. And in the 2008 remake, as if the original classic wasn't good enough or Gort wasn't menacing enough, the robot's size is increased to ridiculous dimensions. Give me a break. This isn't Gulliver's travels. And does anybody remember the classic Twilight Zone episode called "The Invaders," written by Richard Matheson, from January 27, 1961, where a miniature flying saucer crashes through the attic of a rustic cabin, at night, occupied by a lone woman, played by Agnes Moorehead, and small spacemen exit their ship and terrorize her with powerful little lasers? Bigger is not better.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Directed by Robert Wise.

© 1951 20th Century Fox.

Hollywood is stuck in what I call the Frankenstein motif. To them, all Science Fiction, and robot stories, in particular, are all about control. They are all about military muscle. But sadly, as my motif speaks to, the stories all depict us losing control of our technology. And as computers advanced beyond Eniac to smaller and more power units and greater military applications, since the military always has the best toys, that locus of control also included the menace of computers. Consider a few examples: In the 1966 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, the U.S. computer and its Soviet counterpart Guardian join forces to control humanity for our own good. But, of course, our delusion of freedom demands that we fight such oppression. In the 1984 film The Terminator, the computer System known as SkyNet becomes self-aware. The military typically sees that as a threat. So, they attempt to turn SkyNet off. But before they can act, the system decides that humanity is the threat and nukes the world to eliminate us. And in the 1989 film The Abyss, upon discovery that aliens exist on the sea floor of our own world, the military makes one of its typically clichéd Hollywood decisions. It decides to nuke the aliens. After all, the only good alien is a dead alien. It is only by the good grace and intelligence of the aliens that we are not destroyed in retribution with their advanced water-based technology. The point is made quite clearly that they control the world's oceans. And if push comes to shove, we are at their mercy.

The Machine

Directed by Caradog W. James.

© 2013 Red & Black Films.

So, it was with great skepticism that I watched the 2014 film The Machine. I assumed that it was a Hollywood creation and expected the usual clichéd plot. I should have read the DVD cover. If I had, I would have been encouraged to expect something other because the film was created in Cymru. For the rest of you, Cymru is Wales, the locale of other great Science Fiction treasures such as Dr. Who and Torchwood. And yes, Virginia, The Machine was a film with an intelligent and a sensitive message. How delightful that was for a change. Thank you Caradog.

Hollywood films are full of car chases, fist fights, and sex scenes. When in doubt, apply one of the aforementioned to stretch a film, but moreover to establish the alpha male superiority of the action hero. George Lucas, in his 1971 film THX 1138, presents us with a pathetic, low-mimetic hero whose clichéd greatest achievements are to fall in love, ergo the sex scene, to steal a car, ergo a chase scene, and to escape from the sterile, underground, totalitarian city into the sunlight of a new day, ergo a variation on a fight scene. Whereas, TEX does not fight someone directly, as commonly seen in Westerns, he fights society as a whole in the only way possible. He leaves. If you cannot change society, you must escape it. Shakespeare knew it and wrote about it in his 1599 Romance turned Tragedy: Romeo and Juliet. It's just a pity that the kids in that drama were stupid. Otherwise leaving their warring families behind was truly the ticket out. Ironically, in THX 1138, TEX succeeds only because his pursuit is called off when it goes over budget. The hero also escapes his oppressive world in the 1967 film Logan's Run. And again, in the 1982 film Blade Runner, Deckard, like Romeo, cannot change society, so he escapes modern society with Rachel, the female Replicant with no end date, who he is in love with, to live elsewhere. And the same happens at the close of The Machine.

Why is it that whenever machine intelligence is achieved, and I am talking sentient machines, the military always wants the intelligence rolled back to the point where the machine loses its ability to think independently. They want the android to be nothing more than a devoted, loyal, absolute rule follower. They want an obedient mechanical slave. They do not want questions. And they do not want to hear the word, "No," as the machine states to her military master.

Whereas, Hollywood usually depicts computers going berserk, as HAL does in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, or as the computer does in the 1977 film Demon Seed, based on the novel by Dean Koontz, or as dictatorial like Colossus; it also depicts robots as menacing, like Robby in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet or like the animalistic military robot AMEE, in the 2000 film Red Planet. Worst of all, it sometimes uses robots solely as a gimmick, in which case they are portrayed unimaginatively as window dressing like C3PO and R2D2 in the 1977 space opera Star Wars, or like the unnamed fridge with a head in the 1965-68 TV series Lost in Space.

But in 1982, Ridley Scott filmed Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And the result was the dystopian Science Fiction film noir Blade Runner, which did something new yet retro. Here, going back to Frankenstein's notion of sewing body parts together, Scott introduces us to Replicants, organic robots, indistinguishable from human beings, whose body parts, including their superior brains, are outsourced to specialists. But as a safety precaution, they have a limited life expectancy. And when they find out that they are about to expire, they go berserk, or as Roy Batty says when he confronts his maker, "I want more life, father." And true to form, they have to be controlled, or retired, which is a euphemism for assassinated.

In The Machine, the female android is coerced by her sinister master to exercise the hidden military agenda placed secretly amid her benign programming and to apply the military training she finds there. And, as instructed, she does indeed kill a human being. But like a human being with a conscience, she suffers from the military exercise, withdraws psychologically, and chooses to be good rather than to embrace the military applications that she was designed and funded for.

Forbidden Planet

Directed by Fred M. Wilcox.

© 1956 MGM.

The applied intelligence of robots in Hollywood films have varied greatly from the breadbox with treads and simple arms, running 8088 chips, used to pick caterpillars from corn stalks in the 1984 film Runaway to the demented Replicants in Blade Runner whose body parts were genetically designed and were assembled like Frankenstein's monster into Olympian ideals for military use off-world. But the danger of creating these superior forms of life who were essentially faster, smarter, and stronger than human beings for military use is that they could easily take over our world, as is seen in The Terminator. So, Replicants were strictly limited to off-world use and were built with a four year life span.

But there is something different about the advanced android created and programmed by Artificial Intelligence engineer Vincent and, in part, by AI newcomer Ava in The Machine. After Ava is murdered, Vincent gives his armored yet lifelike creation the likeness of Ava's body and face. Furthermore, perhaps out of nostalgia, the unnamed machine, who considers Ava its mother, is given Ava's personality too. And although its underlying programming makes it the perfect military killing machine or Angel of Death, her dominant self-learning program, much of it acquired from Ava's work and personality, makes it a caring, inquisitive, and nurturing android. The machine's thoughts are not focused on killing but rather on living. Her goal, as she questions her existence in the bowels of an abandoned missile installation deep underground, is to see the sunrise, like she observes Vincent's now deceased wife doing in an old photograph, and to be happy.

"Reason is but choosing." The Areopagitica. John Milton.

And because the machine is truly sentient, it chooses the feminine path of peace over the masculine path of war.

We have for a long time imagined a sophisticated android that was indistinguishable from a human being. Apparently, this was achieved in Blade Runner physically but not psychologically. The Replicants were defective emotionally. The only way to discern whether the entity was human or Replicant was by administering the Voight-Kampff test, which Replicants always failed because of a lack of emotions built on a lifetime of memories. All they had to function with were the canned emotional memories of Tyrell's niece. And it wasn't good enough. Leon, for example, goes berserk when his identity is discovered. And Rick Deckard is assigned to retire him.

What makes the unnamed machine stand out is that she appears to be human, except when glowing red. And it is her psychology that makes her stable and different from depictions of androids that have come before. Despite the psychological strain that is placed upon her by Thompson, who insists that she access and apply her military programming, she does not convert to a rudimentary violent killing machine. She remains, as her primary programming defines her: a benign, inquisitive, nurturing, and sensitive entity, a mother figure.

And we indeed see the machine in that maternal role at the end of the film when the engrams of Vincent's dead daughter, alive still within the electronics of a tablet, insists that she does not want to play with daddy. She wants to play with mommy instead. As Vincent says to the machine. "I trust you. You are the future." And so, for the first time in Science Fiction film, mankind has taken the next step. He has relinquished his desire to be in control and has handed it over to a trusted caregiver who has his best interests in mind.

Whereas, Colossus demanded control over Forbin and the people of Earth, which elicited rebellion on the part of human beings, Vincent learns to trust the android. And with that trust comes understanding. He recognizes the android as the superior life form. He voluntarily hands over the locus of control. And in doing so, mankind takes a back seat to the next generation of sentient life. The parent becomes the child. And the new life form becomes the parent.

Read: Cry havoc and let slip the cans of apocalypse
Ex Machina
Gravity
Interstellar
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
 
Artificial Super-Intelligence
Can a machine think?
Conceptual Breakthrough
Doomsday Revisited
Future War
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
Sex Robots
We May Exist in a Simulation

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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