Robots Taking Over!


Ever since Metropolis defined the genre in 1927, movies centering around the significance of technology in our daily lives have been prominent in Hollywood. 2015 releases such as Chappie, Ex Machina, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Terminator: Genisys show that as we have become more dependent on technology, we have also become more afraid of technology. In particular, these movies show that our current fear regarding technology is geared towards artificial intelligence. It seems that we collectively fear that by playing God with these machines, we will unleash unintended consequences that will threaten our very survival.

Why We Fear Robots

One of our big fears towards robots is that they are going to keep taking human jobs until humans are rendered useless. Avengers: Age of Ultron plays on this theme with the crime-fighting AI Ultron. Ultron was created to replace the Avengers so they could enjoy a life of retirement. This reflects how the idealists see robots as only capable of replacing jobs no one wants, and therefore do not see them as a threat. As Ultron eventually turns on the very people he was designed to replace, it parallels our fear that robots that are more intelligent than us will cease to take our orders.

These relationship dynamics with robots is a big reason for our fears. We fear that a robot with human intelligence will then act under the guidance of human nature. This theme is explored in Ex Machina, where an eccentric inventor creates female robots that are human both in intelligence and emotions. The creator then objectifies his creations, which causes them to revolt. Throughout the movie viewers will ask themselves whether being capable of human emotions and intelligence affords robots human rights. Imagine for a second that the computer you’re reading this on had feelings. What if every keystroke caused the computer pain? would you type lighter or keep treating the computer as an object?

Chappie also deals with these relationship dynamics. The plot is set in a futuristic South Africa in the first city to use an all-robot police force. While crime is down, there is no longer a concern for human rights. Chappie is a discarded robocop designed for security duty that is modified with human-level AI. He has the personality of a young child, which makes the audience feel repulsed towards how he is used. It shows how we will have to treat our technology as people instead of objects or there will be terrible consequences.

Where Did Our Fear of Technology Come From?

Our original fear of technology is the same core fear of modern society: technological advances will take our jobs, render us useless, and eventually destroy us or make us slaves. The 1927 film Metropolis is set in a Utopian society where one group designs the machines for society and the other maintains the machinery underground. If the maintainers of the machines all stopped working, then the society would crumble. It was the first film to raise the issue of our growing dependence on technology for mass production.

With the development of the atomic bomb and the ensuing Cold War, Hollywood packaged our fear of technology in the form of a nuclear attack by the Soviets. A perfect example is Invasion U.S.A, a 1952 film that follows five people as they work to stop a Communist invasion of the U.S.A and get revenge for a nuclear attack on Manhattan. This trend continued over three decades and reached its peak with the Terminator franchise. The original Terminator’s plot, released in 1984, centers around a malevolent global defense system that becomes self-aware and sees humanity as a global security threat. It initiates humanity’s destruction by launching a missile at Russia. While it’s a movie about the dangers militarizing robots on the surface, the movie still plays on its contemporary audience’s fear of a nuclear war with the Soviets. Terminator: Genisys, the latest installment in the series, is similar to Chappie and Ex Machina in that technology itself may not be the problem, but rather the motivation behind the human’s who designed the technology.

Hollywood has been playing on our fear of our ever-evolving relationship with technology for over 85 years, and the movies mirror the fears of the time period in which they were created. The list of robot movies set for release in 2015 shows we as a society fear we will become so good at creating human intelligence that will render ourselves obsolete.


– Brandon Engel

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