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Policymakers, Don’t Take Your Clues from “Techno-pocalypse” Movies

An Oscar

Movies capture the popular imagination, mirroring society’s hopes and fears. But science fiction is exactly what the name describes: fiction. It is meant to bring enjoyment to the viewer, and these wild depictures of technology run amok should not affect policy decisions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

For example, take concerns about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, a number of prominent scientists and well-known luminaries have warned that in the not-so-distant future, humans could lose control of AI, thus creating an existential threat for humanity. This paranoia about evil machines has swirled around popular culture for more than 200 years, and these claims continue to grip the popular imagination. In fact, one 2015 study found 22 percent of U.S. adults are afraid of AI (which is more than fear death), despite no evidence that this technology is anywhere near being as sophisticated as it is portrayed in movies.

But policymakers should not use science fiction films to guide their understanding of science and technology. For example, at a 2013 Senate hearing about threats from space, a senator cited the movie Armageddon—where a team of astronauts try to blow up an asteroid before it hits Earth. However, as U.S. Naval War College Professor Joan Johnson-Freese explained during the hearing, this movie did not accurately depict how the United States should respond to an asteroid heading to Earth. Fixating on sci-fi doomsday scenarios could also create policy that slows innovation. For example, restrictive policies could make it harder for the public, policymakers, and scientists to support more funding for AI research.

Certainly, we are living in the golden age of pro-science pop-culture. Some movies are more scientifically-accurate and uplifting, like the Martian, which depicts several countries rallying to save an astronaut stranded on Mars. Others do not treat advances in technology as evil. For example, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens features AI as what it should be considered, a useful tool that allows humans (or aliens) to be more productive. In fact, despite the role of robotics and advanced AI in the galactic economy and in warfare throughout the Star Wars films, this technology is never depicted as having its own will or a desire to exterminate humans. Similarly, these films depict advances in genetics and cloning as positive technological advances that can benefit the universe.

So this year, on the eve of the 88th Academy Awards, let’s celebrate the block-busters that depict new and inventive ways for technology to threaten the human race, rather than let them arouse our fears. In honor of the great science fiction movies of 2015, ITIF suggests that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences add a new category for Best Techno-pocalypse in a Film. This award could go to the movies that go above and beyond to depict dystopian worlds that were heralded by technology, from killer robots to genetically-engineered super dinosaurs.

Here are some nominees from 2015 for this category:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

This chapter of the Marvel cinematic universe follows Tony Stark and Bruce Banner—famed superheroes Iron Man and the Hulk, respectively—who create an artificial intelligence (AI) system named Ultron that wants to destroy all of humanity just because. Watch this lovable gang of heroes try to stop Ultron’s army of killer robots before it is too late!

Terminator Genisys

This fifth installment of the Terminator series turns the archetypal evil AI “Skynet” into Genisys, a widely-used operating system.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina is our final film to feature AI. Meet Ava, the psychotic robot creation of a hermit billionaire tech genius, and watch her trick her way into your heart.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World brings the audience back to the iconic dinosaur park to visit a new attraction: a genetically-engineered dinosaur. Watch as this creation-that-man-cannot-control uses its GMO superpowers to control other animals, change color, and wreak havoc on those that created it.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

In this final installment to a dystopian thriller, future technology has allowed the super-rich to form an idle, ruling class while the poor slave in squalor. Luckily, no one is worrying about that today.

 

Let us know which one of our nominees should take home the award for Best #Technopocalypse in a Film! And remember, it is only fiction and entertainment.

 

Picture Credit: Davidlohr Bueso

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About the author

Alan McQuinn is a research analyst at ITIF. His research areas include a variety of issues related to emerging technology and Internet policy, such as cybersecurity, privacy, virtual currencies, e-government, and commercial drones. Prior to joining ITIF, McQuinn was a telecommunications fellow for Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and an intern for the Federal Communications Commission in the Office of Legislative Affairs. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in public relations and political communications.