beware, there be spoilers: Colossus: the Forbin project

While I’m still reading Vonnegut, I did take some time to watch the film version of a book I remember reading some long time ago, Colossus by D F Jones.   I have fond memories of the book, and I enjoyed the movie.

I found it particularly interesting, given the state of the world today.  While there is Colossus and Guardian’s collective understanding of the human condition and the cause of human suffering, a topic worthy of discussion in its own right, I’m more intrigued at the moment by the idea of a human-created artificial intelligence run amok.

I don’t know the history of stories about human-created artificial intelligences run amok, though I’m sure someone has written one (and if you know of one, let me know because I’m curious).  But I would think that Colossus would be one of the first.

I’ll admit that I’m not as interested in killer robots run amok, because the robots might not be very mindful of the havoc and chaos they are creating.  And though it clearly has a place in this whole lineage, I’m not including Frankenstein in this discussion.  Though Frankenstein’s creation does to a small extent run amok and is human-created, it is powered by a human brain.

What I find most striking about Colossus is not the artificial intelligence itself, Colossus and Guardian come together, but rather the naivite of their creators.  And this got me thinking.  Through short stories and novellas, books and films, perhaps stage plays and strange variants of commedia dell’arte, we have become accustomed to the idea of human creations going wrong, and we have lost some of the optimism of the characters in those works, if not the authors.

Why oh why would anyone think it a good idea to turn the defence of the nation, and all the weapons needed or designed for that defence, to a machine that can’t be turned off.  Perhaps this is a lesson that we needed to learn, and I suspect that even at the time it was speculative to turn the fate of the world over to technology.

But it is an idea that has some persistence to it – we can’t be relied on to take care of ourselves, so let’s outsource it to an objective machine.  And come the end of the movie, all I could think was, poor Doctor Forbin, lying in the bed that he’d built.

But now I’m curious.  We create ideas, we write about them and explore them through the literature we write and consume.  And to what extent do the stories we then find ourselves telling one another, come to shape our view of the world when those things finally start becoming possible?

~ by Jim Anderson on 15 April 2018.

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