Good morning, Fortune senior writer Jeff Roberts here with a question: What movie or TV show has done the best job exploring A.I.? I ask because, even though Hollywood is notorious for flubbing scientific details, the stories it tells often reflect our collective hopes and fears as a society.
I set about making a list and the first film to come to mind was the 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie, hailed for its realistic depiction of space flight, features a computer named HAL who goes rogue, commandeering the voyage and killing the astronauts. A fun tidbit is that HAL was inspired by IBM (note the initials are all one letter off). And while few people today would pick IBM as the company most likely to enslave us, 2001‘s theme of betrayal by our own machines still resonates.
That fear of losing control of the devices we build is a common storyline. Other prominent examples include the Terminator series, the original Alien and certain episodes of Black Mirror.
But the robots are not always the bad guys. There is another popular A.I. trope in Hollywood trope in which machines offer connection and even redemption in a world where we’ve lost our humanity. Think of Harrison Ford finding love with a replicant in Blade Runner or Joaquin Phoenix mending his heart break with a digital assistant in Her. In some cases—notably the dystopian game show setting of Westworld—the robots’s attempts to become sentient are a rebuke to the moral failings of real humans.
It’s notable that, in the A.I. shows that offer the promise of redemption, the machines that might save us are female. But not this stereotype of female empathy is not universal. In canvassing my tech reporter colleagues, a number cited Ex Machina—which see the protagonist outsmarted by a sociopathic female robot—as a must-watch. Then there is Wall-E, the gentle male robot who helps humanity repair a ravaged earth.
I confess I haven’t seen the latter two films but plan to soon. Other A.I. shows that came up in my canvas include Westworld precursor, Person of Interest, the new sci-fi series Next and the 2001 Steven Spielberg film called, appropriately enough, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
What do you think? Did we make any big omissions in our list of top A.I. movies and TV shows? If so, please email me your favorites—we’ll include your responses in next week’s Eye on A.I. newsletter.