Avengers: Age of Ultron. Artificial Intelligence Turns Bad

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, thanks to an intense few weeks of PhD writing, editing and submitting (yes, I finally managed to answer the question ‘when are you going to submit?’ but only about a week before I did). I also managed to squeeze an RE teacher’s conference in there too (#NATREnorth – which I will blog about when I get round to it). I met (or re-met) loads of lovely people (including some twitter friends in the flesh), many but not all of them RE teachers, and came away full of inspiration. So it’s been a while since I saw this film, and I had loads to say about it then but, not having written it down, I can only remember some of it (the film, as well as the stuff I had to say)!

Ever since I wrote a blog post on Chappie a while ago, I’ve been thinking about the idea of consciousness and whether it is possible to replicate it in artificial intelligence. I read a few New Scientist articles on it – my source of all scientific knowledge – and have come to the conclusion that I don’t think it will be possible for computers to have consciousness, though they may be able to replicate it to a high level, such that humans might be fooled by it. What I mean by this is that I don’t think computers will ever be genuinely free to make choices in the way that human consciousness allows. I think computers will always be computing, if you will, the outcomes of their decision, and can therefore only ever make rational choices.

I know AI is big in the world of film, so I was not surprised when the latest Avengers film was based around it. Not only that, it gave a perfect representation of what I had come to think of as the way in which any form of artificial intelligence will develop: towards rationality over consciousness. Ultron, the ultimately intelligent – and constantly evolving – form of AI is ruthless in contrast to Jarvis, the older, slower, but more human form of AI.

One scary realisation was that, once uploaded to the internet, Ultron was not going away – much like the things we put online and wish we hadn’t, but on a much bigger scale! Not only did Ultron have access to all knowledge that had been uploaded to the internet, but was able to develop as a programme. Fortunately, the internet was also the source of hope, in sustaining the broken AI Jarvis – who now becomes Vision – such that it could come back and save the day.

Interestingly, both forms of AI were personified as male. They were both given human-shaped bodies, though arguably they didn’t need them (except to get involved in the fighting, I guess). This seems to buy into the age-old stereotype that knowledge is a male pursuit (notably, the scientists that created and/or uploaded the AI were also male). Also, need I mention the obvious associations with the names ‘Ultron’ and ‘Vision’? I think I preferred them as web-like shiny entities in the lab!

It might seem obvious to say that Ultron has a bit of a ‘god complex’, attempting to control the world, which he now has at his fingertips (having now got fingertips) thanks to the internet. He has become the ultimate source of knowledge and consequently believes he is invincible. Ultron has a perfect body created for himself, with the method devised to repair damaged tissue synthetically. He wants to rid the world of humans, an idea to which the Avengers don’t take kindly, and thus ensues much violence.

Ironically, after such an all-encompassing notion of AI, taking of the web, and attempting to destroy earth (how was Ultron going to continue to survive without earth, by the way?), the fight comes down to a particular city which Ultron lifts into the sky to use to create a meteor-like effect. Not only must earth be saved, but the particular people who had the unfortunate luck to be in the city at the time it was sent skywards must be rescued.

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