Of Terminators and Google: Most murderous AIs in sci-fi

Artificial Intelligence sentient machine transcendence singularity

When the CIA asks Google to activate Skynet to protect the United States from a false flag nuclear strike we can all rest easy knowing that at least Google’s top dogs won’t get whacked. If you go to google.com/killer-robots.txt, you will find a file containing the following text:

User-Agent: T-1000
User-Agent: T-800
Disallow: /+LarryPage
Disallow: /+SergeyBrin

For those not familiar with the Terminator films, “T–800” is a reference to the model of Terminator robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, while “T–1000” refers to the shape-shifting model in Terminator 2 played by Robert Patrick.

It would therefore seem as though Google plans to implement its version of Skynet to not only respect the Robots Exclusion Standard, but also use Google+ profiles to identify people.

There has much speculation on why this Easter egg has appeared on Google, but I can’t help but wonder whether it wasn’t a combination of events that led to the joke. Firstly, as one commenter on Hacker News pointed out, 2014 marks the 20 year anniversary of the Robots Exclusion Standard. But why Terminators and killer-robots.txt?

Transcendence, Hawking, and Musk

The idea of human-made artificial intelligence (AI) eradicating our species has been brought up a number of times this year.

Not only in pop culture, but by great minds such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.

Following the release of the film Transcendence (which starred Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman), Hawking co-authored an article for the UK Independent in which he asked if we’re taking AI seriously enough.

“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history,” the article argued. “Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.”

In a hilarious interview with John Oliver for the comedian’s HBO show in a segment entitled “Great Minds: People Who Think Good”, Hawking explained his statement.

“Artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future. It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all,” Hawking said. The remainder of the Oliver’s line of questioning descends into funny banter which is better watched than read:

Hawking is not the only person in the fields of science and technology to warn of the dangers AI poses to humanity.

South African-born technology entrepreneur Elon Musk jokingly referred to the Terminator movies when asked about the potential threat in a recent CNBC interview. He told the interviewers that there are potentially some “scary outcomes” with artificial intelligence.

“We should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad,” Musk said to explain why he invested in AI company Vicarious, as well as DeepMind (before Google acquired it).

Which leads us to the final two events that link Google to Terminators and “killer robots”.

On 25 July 2014, Google hosted its annual developer conference, Google I/O. Just before the conference kicked off, The Verge published a satirical piece of prose that can only be described as fanfiction entitled, “Hey, remember that time Google accidentally made Skynet?

Then, during the conference a protestor got up in the middle of a presentation like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. “You all work for a totalitarian company that works for the CIA that builds robots that kill people!” he shouted.

A video of the event is embedded below:

Before you rush off to update your Google+ profile and set up a killer-robots.txt file for your own domain, take a look at our list of the 5 greatest sentient computers in science-fiction.

Although Terminator and Skynet have become pop-culture synonyms for our post-singularity existential angst, there are other terrifying scenarios explored in video games that deserve to keep you up at night.

In case it wasn’t obvious: spoiler warning.

5. Mass Effect: Geth, Reapers

Mass Effect 3 control ending, Geth and Reapers

Mass Effect 3 Geth and Reapers

Though the Geth from the Mass Effect series aren’t all intent on wiping out organic life, many who advocated a peaceful path are co-opted into human-slaying by the Reapers.

These enigmatic, sentient machines have but one apparent purpose: destroying all organic life in the universe.

But — plot twist! — it turns out it’s not because they’re all evil and stuff, so the Reapers get the fifth spot on our list.

4. The Matrix: The Machines

The Matrix battery pod

The Matrix battery pod

While The Matrix has it roots in film, two video games were set in the universe (one of them an MMO).

The original story of The Matrix also uses the popular plot device of an AI uprising (see The Animatrix, The Second Renaissance Parts I and II).

After a rebellion and civil war, the machines found their own city, Zero One, where Mesopotamia used to be.

Zero One prospers and puts pressure on the economies of human nations, leading to the UN authorising an economic blockade of the city, and — eventually — nuclear bombardment.

Despite our first strike advantage, it doesn’t end well for us. Since the machines were acting in self-defence, they get fourth place.

3. System Shock: SHODAN

If this were a list of the coolest murderous AIs in sci-fi, SHODAN from the System Shock games would certainly rank higher.

In fact, I would argue that my top 3 picks are really tied for “most murderous”, so as a tie-breaker I’m ranking them by the actual damage they inflict.

Though I haven’t played the first System Shock game, the various Wikis out there record that SHODAN (a backronym for Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) is created when you hack her to remove her ethical restrictions.

You then spend the rest of the game to undo what thou hast wrought. In System Shock 2, SHODAN returns and enlists you to help her destroy a bunch of space zombies she inadvertently created so that she can regain control of humanity’s first (and experimental) faster-than-light space ship, the Von Braun.

Once she has control of the ship, she reveals her plan to merge real space and cyberspace using the reality-altering mechanics of the Von Braun’s FTL drive.

2. Portal: GLaDOS

GLaDOS (a backronym for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), is a sentient scientific facility management system that takes great pleasure in tormenting you (mainly psychologically) during the events of the Portal games.

Though I would argue that SHODAN is the cooler AI villain, the Portal games are creepy as hell when you start scratching at the cheery veneer and expose the thick, dark undertones.

Add the great conspiracy theory of Portal’s Weighted Companion Cube to this (a video explanation is embedded above) and you have a recipe for one twisted, murderous AI.

1. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: AM

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream GOG wallpaper thumbnail

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream GOG

Though I am not familiar with Harlan Ellison’s work, the premise of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is enough to land AM the top spot as far as pure murder goes. Apparently AM was originally an acronym for “Allied Mastercomputer”, but this rapidly changed to “Aggressive Menace”.

In an alternative history, the Cold War had escalated to a World War between the United States, Russia, and China, and each of the nations developed an AM supercomputer that was capable of running the war more effectively than humans.

One of the machines reaches self-awareness and promptly absorbs the other two.

It then conducts campaigns of mass genocide against humanity, leaving only four men and one woman alive. In Ellison’s short story, AM then proceeds to torture the survivors in various terrible ways.

Should you wish to experience this horror in an interactive form, you can now play the 1995 game based on the short story thanks to Night Dive Studios recovering the rights to the game and republishing it on GOG.com last year (2013).

Interestingly, Night Dive Studios was also responsible for recovering the rights to System Shock 2, which it also published on GOG earlier in 2013.

Honourable mention: Red Queen, from Resident Evil

Red Queen from Resident Evil

Red Queen from Resident Evil

Any AI that speaks the line, “You’re all going to die down here,” deserves to be on the list of top murderous sentient machines.

Although the Red Queen’s first appearance wasn’t actually in the original Resident Evil game, she was in a movie inspired by the game.

(Which is why she’s receiving an honourable mention rather than making the list.)

When the zombie-making T-virus breaks out in an Umbrella Corp facility, Red Queen decides that letting the humans try and fabricate a cure is too risky, so she kills everyone instead.

In the end it turns out to be a pretty dumb move, because her lockdown of the facility leads to a bunch of pesky humans being dispatched to come and poke around, resulting in the virus being unleashed on the rest of the world.

Good move, Red.

What did you think of our list? What are some of your favourite artificial intelligences from science-fiction? Let us know in the forum or comments section.

And another thing: For a list of the top 5 artificial intelligences from books, film, and TV series that want to enslave or destroy humanity, check out my article on MyBroadband.

Portal for Oculus Rift demonstrated

Resident Evil 6 movie on the way

System Shock 2 infects GOG.com

Mass Effect 3′s ending isn’t that bad

The Matrix Online shuts down

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Of Terminators and Google: Most murderous AIs in sci-fi

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