Humans vs. Robots: The best movies and shows about AI
Sci-fi addict? We’re sorry to announce the critically acclaimed series Humans won’t return for a fourth season. In case you missed it, Humans provided a thrilling look at the evolution of technology and its effect on society. The narrative explores the themes of artificial intelligence via a parallel universe in which the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a “Synth” – a highly developed robotic servant so similar to a real human that it raises some complex questions about the blurred lines between humans & machines.
Because there won’t be any more Humans to watch, we put together this handy list of the most bingeworthy AI-themed TV shows & movies for your viewing pleasure.
Almost Human (2013 – 2014)
This show takes viewers to 2048, where a detective named John Kennex (Karl Urban) wakes up from a 17-month long coma to find a world in which an overwhelmed police force has implemented a new policy to overcome crime rates – every human police officer is paired with a lifelike combat android. As Kennex recovers, he must partner with AI Dorian (Michael Ealy) to protect & serve with a data-driven edge.
Person of Interest (2011 – 2016)
CBS’s sci-fi series follows an ex-assassin (Jim Caviezel) and a wealthy programmer (Michael Emerson) as they save lives via a surveillance AI that sends them the identities of civilians planning terrorist attacks.
However, the details of the crimes – including the civilians’ roles – are left a mystery. The show deserves high praise for the way it tackles the AI concept: while it’s heavy on action and conspiracies, it offers one of the most realistic depictions of AI by ditching the human shell trope and simply presenting it as a gigantic machine.
Black Mirror (2011 – )
While not every episode in this anthology series is centered around AI, it’s the perfect fix for any sci-fi / technology junkie, with each episode offering a tech-based twist. One episode that tackles AI flawlessly features in the lesser-known season two (before Charlie Brooker brought the show to Netflix).
“Be Right Back” involves a woman who loses her significant other in a car crash and subsequently purchases a virtual AI that analyzes his social media profiles to emulate his personality. Rather than offering a warning into the dangers of AI, it actually makes a statement on the public personas we present on social media.
Westworld (2016 – )
In this fantastic sci-fi / Western hybrid series from director Richard J. Lewis (Barney’s Version), humans are able to explore a futuristic theme park in which humanlike robots allow visitors to act out their fantasies no matter how illicit they may be. However, with the robots not knowing they’re robots, the question arises: are humans the true monsters?
Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009)
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica– which includes a primitive form of AI (robotic Cylon centurions) and an advanced form of AI (humanoid Cylons) – digs into that fear over what would happen if AI turned against its human masters. Portraying a furious battle between people & robots, the show exposes the dark side of humans and the humanity side of AI.
Not only is this Joaquin Phoenix-starring flick a visual delight (thanks to the incredible talents of Spike Jonze), but Her is one of the few movies that – although bittersweet – presents AI in a somewhat positive, rose-colored hue. And while the use of AI does come with its problems, Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) focuses on more modern-day issues like technology’s influence on our ability to connect.
Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is such a stunning example of sci-fi storytelling, it’s been hailed “the best movie about Artificial Intelligence in 40 years.” The story follows a young coder (Domhnall Gleeson) who is selected to spend the week evaluating an AI that can mimic human qualities. As the coder gets to know the beautiful robot Ava (Alicia Vikander), complicated questions arise over whether she really possesses the complexities of a human.
Blade Runner (1982)
You can’t cook up an AI list without featuring the original Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s iconic thriller has inspired the visuals of so many sci-fi flicks with its neon-lit cityscapes and dystopian settings. The movie’s representation of AI in the form of Replicants blurs the line between man & machine in truly haunting ways.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The visually stunning cinematic triumph from the one and only Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange) follows a voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL 9000 to find a mysterious artificial object buried beneath the lunar surface. HAL – an AI that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft – has been referenced more than any other AI in movie history, from Doctor Who to The Simpsons.
To say Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was ahead of its time would be an understatement. Still inspiring visual artists, directors, fashion artists, and set designers to this day, the silent movie remains a truly essential example of on-screen AI due to the design and biomechanics behind the False Maria robot, which went on directly to influence the design of C3PO in Star Wars.