Greetings from the Odinson,
Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theatres now! Next week the Odinson will drop his official review. For now, I’d like to take a closer look at the villain of the piece – Ultron. But even more specifically, the complicated relationship between man and machine.
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These are the Three Laws of Robotics as conceived by renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov (I, Robot). Man makes machines to help him improve his state of living. Man evolves and with evolution comes advancement in technology. Eventually, man creates A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), A.I. reaches singularity, A.I. perceives man as either inferior or a threat, and inevitably A.I. tries to destroy man. As Morpheus once told Neo – “Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”
The snowball effect started with HAL 9000. In Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning 2001: A Space Odyssey, an astronaut crew bound for Jupiter is systematically taking out by their onboard A.I., HAL, when they threaten to disconnect the computer. HAL’s reinterpretation of Asimov’s third rule ended up contradicting the whole formula and subsequently rewrote the rule book. After this mechanical transgression, machines all across the landscape of science fiction began to turn on their human benefactors.
A few months after HAL 9000’s malfunction, Marvel Comics unveiled a new super villain. Ultron is an A.I. created by Hank Pym, the super hero known as Ant-Man and a co-founding member of the Avengers. However, as super smart as he is, Pym is a flawed man and he passed those flaws on to his greatest creation. It wasn’t long before Ultron sought not only the destruction of his father but the annihilation of all mankind. Constantly evolving, Ultron continues to come back and plague Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and every time he does, he comes back smarter and deadlier than the time before. So much so that in order to vanquish the machine’s last attempt, Marvel’s heroes had to fracture the very time-stream and set the Marvel Universe on a collision course with oblivion in order to defeat the mechanical monster (see Age of Ultron, Cataclysm: The Ultimates Last Stand, and Time Runs Out).
A few years later, a very different kind of artificial intelligence arose to plague mankind. Arnim Zola was a World War II Nazi scientist who through the use of super science downloaded his criminal brain into a computer and now to this day haunts the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America, and the free world he protects.
In Alien, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic, Ash, the science officer of the ill-fated Nostromo, a deep space vessel, and resident android goes rogue and starts breaking Asimov’s rules left and right in order to preserve the crew’s landmark find for his employers.
Perhaps the most infamous A.I. in the annuals of science fiction is Skynet. This military computer network becomes self-aware and decides that it is in its best interest to wipe out humanity. It declares war on the human race by simultaneously launching all nuclear warheads around the globe. In the Apocalyptic aftermath, Skynet sends out machines, Hunter/Killers and Terminators, to exterminate the remnants of the human race. However, a human resistance led by John Connor rises up to fight back.
Even good machines can go bad, as was the case in Absolute Vision. After sustaining serious damage investigating a Negative Zone incursion, the Vision, resident super android of the Avengers, is hooked up to ISAAC, an alien super computer, to help speed up his repair process. However, this strange connection between the two A.I.s awakens an idea within the synthetic superman to take control of the Earth and force utopia on mankind whether they want it or not.
In 1986, Stephen King’s unique take on the Apocalypse, Maximum Overdrive, showed planet Earth fall into the tail of a mysterious comet. The radiation from the celestial event awakened a consciousness in all machines big and small around the world. Planes, trains, and automobiles of all shapes and sizes were suddenly given sentience and awareness. So what does every single vehicle, machine, and piece of equipment whether electrical or gas-powered want to do with its first day of self-awareness? Why destroy mankind of course.
If Skynet is the most sinister example of man vs. machine, then The Matrix has to be the most diabolical. In an unspecified time in the future, man creates an A.I. that declares war on its creators. Knowing the machines depend on solar energy to sustain themselves, mankind uses nuclear bombs to scorch the earth and blackout the skies. So, the machines enslave mankind and use the energy produced by the living for power. They grow human beings in fields and fields of mechanical pods. However, to keep the human race docile and subjugated, the machines created The Matrix, a computer-generated world where mankind lives out their lives within their minds and completely oblivious to the fact that they are all slaves.
One minute you are playing chess against your home computer, and the next minute, Skynet is launching a full scale nuclear attack to wipe out humanity from the face of the earth. How has the relationship between man and machine gone so poorly that we’ve gone from Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics to The Matrix? At least benevolent robots and machines like Data, the Autobots, X-51, Red Tornado, the Vision, and C-3PO and R2-D2 seem to have our best interests at heart, mechanical as they may be.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell