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.
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
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
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
Helm as robot Maria.
by Fritz Lang.
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.
1950 Gnome Press.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Day the Earth Stood Still
by Robert Wise.
1951 20th Century Fox.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
by Fred M. Wilcox.
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.
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
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.
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.