This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.
Moore’s law states that computer processing power doubles every 18 to 24 months. Experts predict processing power will be on par, and even surpass, the human brain as early as the mid 2020s. This accelerated rate of change has made technophobia more rampant than ever before, with new movies like Ex Machina, Chappie, Terminator: Genisys and the upcoming Avengers sequel mirroring both our dependence on and fear of technology. But Hollywood serving as a forum to portray our fears of technological advances is nothing new…
History of Technophobia in Film
The genre began with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which hit the big screen in 1927, and it was one of the pioneers of the genre. The plot is set in a “Utopian” society split into two types of people: the thinkers and the workers. The thinkers make the plans and the workers live underground to maintain the machinery. The was the first movie to look at how we were becoming a society that depended heavily on technology, and how technological progress begat the division of social classes. It differs from its successors in that it still shows man as the master of the technology he uses.
The development of the atomic bomb and the ensuing Cold War produced the first movies that showed how our technological achievements could cause our destruction. Stanley Kubrick’s farcical Dr. Strangelove, which debuted in 1964, explored a different take on technophobia, using comedy and satire to comment on the dangers of having a weapon that has the capability of literally destroying the planet. War Games, released 20 years later, also deals with nuclear destruction, but incorporates the growing role of the personal computer. Its plot played on how little we knew about these new machines in our homes by having the main character accidentally activate a nuclear missile launch when he stumbled into a military supercomputer program. We have now become so dependent on personal computers that we no longer have those fears exhibited in movies like War Games and others. Those fears did, however, evolve into the fear of robots with human intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence and Technophobia
Ever since Isaac Asimov coined the modern concept of the robot, they have been the subject of dozens of Science Fiction books and movies. The plot of the highly anticipated The Avengers: Age of Ultron installment reflects a common theme in these works: robots with a certain level of AI, even when created with the best intentions, eventually turn on their creators. For example, Ultron is a robot created to fight crime, but it becomes evil once he sees the crime-fighting Avengers as criminals.
Ex Machina takes a different approach on technophobia. The human-like AIs in this particular film are female, and the plot revolves around how their creator has abused several of them. In our society there are certainly some areas where we abuse technology in one way or another; we often smack the television or throw our phone when they don’t work. But what if our technology could strike back? It plays on the same concept as the Planet of the Apes, in that giving another species or piece of technology the ability to think autonomously like humans will cause them to behave like humans, which includes revolting against an oppressor.
The recent Chappie takes the middle ground out of the three. It depicts the idea that technology itself is neither good nor bad, and therefore should not itself be feared. Rather, it is the humans in control of the technology that should be feared. Chappie shows us how technology could be used as a tool of a oppression by a police state, but it also shows how that same technology can be used as a force to take down such an establishment.
Surely modern technology has its daily advantages. Who doesn’t love their touchscreen phone, or their fully automated home security setup? These advantages don’t fully diminish our fears, however. From 1927 to the present day, the entertainment industry has provided us with a forum to play out our fears towards our ever-growing dependence on technology. As we fast approach a reality where artificial superintelligence is rampant, fictions that play off of our technophobia will only become more common. Perhaps the next big hit will be a movie about a world where the robots are the ones in charge of Hollywood…