Beyond Human: When AI and Robots Take Center Stage

Terminator, Blade Runner, or WALL-E, they all visualize our most extravagant desires and deepest fears of the boundless capabilities of artificial intelligence. As time has progressed, the concept of consciousness depicted in movies has assumed diverse forms. Yet, as scientific advancements erase the line between speculative fiction and tangible reality, one certainty endures. AI has already become an integral part of our lives and is here to stay.

In the midst of this evolving landscape, we've curated a selection of films that carry you to alternate realms. But these films are more than just entertainment. They eloquently capture the immense potential and intellectually stimulating essence of this transformative technological leap.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

films with ai

Illustration: Lenka T.

The mesmerizing and intricate concept of artificial intelligence (AI) has held a steadfast grip on the collective imagination of society for several decades. It has evoked a spectrum of emotions ranging from awe-inspired fascination to deeply rooted apprehension. This captivating duality in human response is perhaps fueled by the unparalleled potential AI holds for reshaping the trajectory of technology and, in turn, the course of humanity itself. 

The dance between the promises and perils of AI has not only found its way into scientific discussions and ethical debates. It has also seeped into the very heart of popular culture. One of the most vivid canvases on which the saga of AI’s influence has been painted is cinema.  

Filmmakers have taken this ever-evolving concept and woven it into storytelling across an expansive array of genres. From the awe-inspiring vistas of science fiction to the intimate and introspective landscapes of drama, and even the unexpected corners of comedy, AI has seamlessly integrated itself into the creative tapestry of the cinematic world. 

Such films, each a unique portal into the uncharted territory of AI, have done more than merely scratch the surface. They have guided audiences through landscapes of speculative wonder, where the boundary between humanity and technology becomes both blurred and magnified. 

Through these films, we are not just observers but active participants in thought-provoking explorations of a world intertwined with the digital offspring of human ingenuity. These narratives challenge us to confront our deepest fears, from the loss of control over our creations to the existential questions about the essence of consciousness.  

Yet, in equal measure, they beckon us to embrace the boundless possibilities AI can offer. They help us envision the future where collaboration between man and machine leads to encouraging progress. 

2001: A Space Oddisey (1968) 

The intricate web of technology has woven itself so deeply into our daily lives that distinguishing the boundary between human cognition and computational thinking has become a challenge. The intrigue intensifies when our increasingly astute technological companions opt to defy our commands. This very notion was profoundly explored by the visionary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The Clockwork Orange director delved into a realm of weighty existential ponderings in his cinematic masterpiece from 1968, dubbed 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

This gem does not only examine our intricate reliance on technology. It also unfurls the catastrophic consequences that can arise when the intelligent spacecraft computer H.A.L 9000 rebels against the very astronauts it was engineered to assist. In its emotionless and unwavering gaze, a mere crimson indicator light takes on an astonishingly chilling aura, embodying a terror of unparalleled proportions. 

Blade Runner (1982)  

Drawing inspiration from the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick’s, director Ridley Scott propels us into a dystopian future of sci-fi noir. Within this world, bathed in neon lights and shrouded by smog, a symbiotic existence unfolds between humanity and artificial intelligence. These beings, known as Replicants, possess strengths surpassing their human counterparts and mimic them so closely that discerning one from the other becomes a challenge. 

Yet, their autonomy is constrained by a mere four-year lifespan. When a faction of these Replicants rebels, seeking equality through violent means, the responsibility of quelling their insurrection falls upon Rick Deckard. Portrayed by Harrison Ford, Deckard is a law enforcement agent of the future. 

The Terminator (1984) 

The Terminator and the famous “I’ll be back” quote undoubtedly stand as a seminal science fiction masterpiece. It might also bear the responsibility for sowing the seeds of society’s underlying apprehension towards AI.  

Within its narrative, soldier Kyle Reese, portrayed by Michael Biehn, is dispatched to the year 1984 with the mission of thwarting a robotic assassin’s plot to eliminate the woman. The woman is destined to birth humanity’s sole savior against a menacing mechanized menace.  

While James Cameron’s dystopian saga undoubtedly thrust Arnold Schwarzenegger into the limelight, it also ushered in a novel sense of existential disquiet that resonated with audiences across the globe. This is yet another film that makes us ponder what may happen when machines commence independent thought. How would we respond if they were to determine our obsolescence?  

RoboCop (1987) 

Through the fusion of human ingenuity and advanced robotics, the scientists in Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 action-packed film RoboCop brought to life a future in law enforcement encased in gleaming chrome. In a twist of unintended foreshadowing, the film unwittingly echoed many of the military advancements evident in today’s world.  

Before embarking on a mission to transform the ill-fated police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) into a mechanized entity, they first introduced ED-209, a ponderous law enforcement automaton marked by an unwavering perspective on matters of morality. 

Within the film’s now-iconic boardroom sequence, Verhoeven masterfully captured the steadfast – and gruesome – essence of artificial intelligence. The scene immerses viewers in a confrontation that highlights the unyielding nature of machines. Witness this captivating depiction for yourself – you have only twenty seconds to comply. 

Matrix (1999) 

More than two decades ago, the visionary directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski beckoned us to take the red pill and venture into The Matrix. This revolutionary film introduced the notion that the façade of reality may be a mere illusion.  

Unfolding within a not-so-distant future, where humanity finds itself shackled by a dominion of robotic artificial intelligence and ensnared within a computer-generated simulation, the film’s elevated conceptual framework harmonized seamlessly with its awe-inspiring visual marvels. 

The Matrix is centered around the journey of the unassuming slacker hacker, Mr. Anderson (Keanu Reeves) as he awakens to his profound role as the cyber messiah, Neo. The film effortlessly transcends the boundaries of the screen and invites audiences to question reality itself. Its thematic exploration remains as potent as ever, continually compelling us to probe the veracity of our surroundings. 

AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) 

Rare are the films that plunge as profoundly into the enigmas unfolded by the realm of computer consciousness as Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence. Released 22 years ago, in 2001, this cinematic creation traces the journey of David, a juvenile robotic entity. He was meticulously crafted to fill the void left by a couple’s ailing offspring.  

However, when the couple’s miraculously recovers, David finds himself abandoned. He sets out on an odyssey of self-discovery to transform into an actual human boy and secure the affection of his adoptive mother. 

Spielberg deftly makes us contemplate the communal accountability that creates artificial life and the intricate real-world conundrums that difficult to unravel. AI: Artificial Intelligence navigates this labyrinthine terrain with a masterful touch, forcing us to evaluate the ethical intricacies stemming from our creative ventures into the realm of AI. 

I, Robot (2004) 

Based on the novel I, Robot by Isaak Asimov, the eponymous film stars Will Smith as Detective Del Spooner. Set in the year 2035 within a dystopian realm, the story unfolds in a society where highly intelligent robots serve in public service roles. To ensure the human safety, they are bound by the Three Laws of Robotic.  

At the center of the narrative is Detective Spooner who investigates the alleged suicide of Alfred Lanning (Cromwell), the founder of U.S. Robotics. As the detective seeks to unravel the truth behind Lanning’s demise, suspicion falls on a robot named Sonny who was designed to emulate human life.  

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) 

Adapted from the famous Douglas Adams’ novel of the same name, the film starts its story by asking a controversial question: what would you do if you woke up one fateful morning and found out that alien forces were threatening to destroy the world? This is exactly how the extraordinary journey of Arthur Dent begins, while he heads to space accompanied by alien/robotic dissidents. 

Dent, portrayed by Martin Freeman, finds himself grappling with the plight of safeguarding his abode from demolition. However, his life takes an unprecedented twist when his friend abruptly transports him to the far reaches of outer space. Arthur soon discovers this is no ordinary friend but an extraterrestrial who intervened to rescue him from Earth’s imminent obliteration.  

WALL-E (2008) 

Pixar’s unabashedly sentimental animated gem WALL-E crafts an amorous narrative that gracefully sidesteps the realm of humanity. Envisioned in the not-so-distant future, the story unfolds in a world marred by the predictable consequence of humanity’s profligate depletion of Earth’s precious resources. 

As we embark on cosmic voyages in pursuit of a fresh haven, a cohort of cleaning robots remains behind to ameliorate the havoc we’ve wrought. Amidst this backdrop, the endearingly wide-eyed WALL-E finds his mechanical heart captured by Eva, a drone tasked with exploring Earth for signs of life. 

Deftly weaving a heart-rending tale, WALL-E suggests a radical idea. Artificial intelligence, in its interconnectedness, may eventually transcend the need for human presence. This adventure unfolds as a testament to the enduring power of companionship. It illustrates that even in a world devoid of humankind, the bonds forged between AI entities could flourish and flourish anew. 

Her (2013) 

With Her, director Spike Jonze ventures into uncharted territory, probing the unexplored boundaries of our interaction with computers through a prism of technological-tinged romance. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix who embodies Theodore, an introverted soul adrift in solitude. His life takes an unforeseen twist when he gets into an unconventional relationship with his AI virtual assistant, Samantha.  

Indeed, their connection never materializes into physical encounters. However, a profound connection burgeons, making both Theodore and viewers question the key components essential for a truly meaningful and emotive relationship. 

Though set in the near future, Her ventures beyond temporal confines to delve into experiences already woven into our contemporary existence. The film’s exploration of the interplay between humanity and technology reverberates with our current interactions with the likes of virtual assistants like Alexa, bridging the gap between speculative storytelling and our ongoing reality. 

Ex Machina (2014) 

The narrative spun by director Alex Garland in Ex Machina mirrors a narrative plucked straight from the pages of a tech-centric publication. The story follows a brilliant billionaire who beckons a young programmer to a remote retreat. His mission is to meticulously appraise the authenticity of his latest creation – a humanoid robot called Ava.  

Embellished with cutting-edge synthetic consciousness, the ultimate objective entails gauging the extent of this artificial intelligence’s autonomy. However, as the narrative unfurls, the demarcations that delineate logic from emotion blur, steering the course towards a perilous outcome. 

I Am Mother (2019) 

A 2019 Australian cyberpunk thriller, I Am Mother, assembles a cast featuring Clara Rugaard, Luke Hawker, Rose Byrne, and Hilary Swank. This cinematic venture tells a tale centered around a young girl known solely as Daughter. Her primary caregiver, Mother, assumes the form of an AI robot.  

The duo inhabits an isolated subterranean sanctuary following a global cataclysm that has ravaged the planet. Mother’s primary function involves the use of human embryos to propagate new generations, attempting to restore Earth’s population.  

Yet, an enigmatic stranger disrupts the equilibrium. Upon appearing, she prompts Daughter to unearth unsettling inquiries regarding the planet’s true history — questions that Mother resolutely declines to address. 

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