Maybe you can’t buy low premium medical insurance plan Malaysia yet, but at least you can still afford the Internet to delve into fiction. What will today bring you?
In the world of science fiction and cyberpunk, one of the common types of antagonists are rogue artificial intelligences or robots. Whether they appear as a hulking, walking metal on two legs or in a large interface, they would usually express their hatred of humanity as we would to cockroaches, with little to various reasons.
You might be thinking that the following three AIs in this list are chosen based on pure interests, as in they happened to be my favourites and I picked them out like a fanboy. While it is true for two of the three, they are all chosen because they fit the same criterias for this list.
To fit in here, the AI must not just be evil or malicious. When it is a serious threat, it is unstoppable or very difficult to stop, and it should also pull no punches in carrying out its deeds and screwing over humanity. In other words, it should be feared by the very species that created it in the first place.
What if the AI is stopped no matter the odds? Well, it might be a victory to the main character and you, but if it somehow survives through hibernation, switching vessels or some other trickery it came up with, then the threat is still present. Meanwhile, just because you finally killed the big cheese that it sent to kill you, it doesn’t give you a cause for total celebration.
As an example, look at both HAL 9000 from “A Space Odyssey” and GLaDOS from the “Portal” game series, and you will see why their scare factors do not come as close as the main trio in this list.
HAL 9000 was originally what kept Discovery One intact through maintenance of functions and engaging the crew. As his malfunctions were peeking out of the cracks through the film, the crew decided to disconnect it to prevent further errors. But because HAL could lip read them, it decided to kill them to not only save itself, but also to prevent its directives from being jeopardized.
HAL killed all but one crewman, Dave, and in the end, Dave managed to reach HAL’s processor core and disable its circuits. While it is facing its imminent end, HAL begged him to stop before it gives up and, with Dave’s agreement, sings “Daisy Bell” until it dies.
In “Portal”, GLaDOS killed many of the Aperture staff with neurotoxin, and would subject the survivors with testing. The final employee, a man named Doug Rattman, would escape from her surveillance and ensure that the main character, Chell, was at the top of the Test Subject roster upon awakening, hoping that her tenacity will help defeat GLaDOS.
Through “Portal” and the first half of “Portal 2”, GLaDOS spits out sarcastic, passive-aggressive remarks and insults as Chell went through her tests, survived her traps and faced her twice. In the second half, GLaDOS was transferred into a potato battery by Chell’s former Personality Core partner, Wheatley, and gradually warmed up with Chell as they teamed up to defeat him.
In the end, upon returning to her own body, she let Chell go to the surface and continue testing in the Aperture facilities.
“Humanity” in steel
First, HAL is a serious threat if you are in deep space and your ship is in its control so it remains stable throughout your mission. However, if you are as smart as Dave, you could still get yourself inside your supposedly locked ship and float your way to its core processors to disconnect HAL.
Despite this vulnerability, it isn’t a major reason that HAL is not as scary or “threatening” as the following three. No, the reason we couldn’t view it as so is because it is sympathetic. “Human.”
HAL had to kill the crew not only out of pure survival, but because, as much as it probably tried, it couldn’t contradict with its programme to see the mission through, and had to carry it out regardless. There was no hatred, only necessity. When it begged Dave to stop disconnecting, it couldn’t even alter its monotone voice to properly express its distress.
Dave looked scared, but was also aware that he was killing a sentient being, and agreed to let HAL sing “Daisy Bell” as if he was holding its hand on its deathbed. It is sort of a reassurance to HAL that everything will be alright, even in death.
The “humanity” factor also applies to GLaDOS, as even when she was clearly trying to kill Chell, her dialogue is what makes her an admirable character in the “Portal” series. She is the kind that you will tread lightly, but otherwise laugh at like a clown. Unlike HAL, her voice had life in it. She clearly expresses emotions by speaking in various tones and can even scream in agony, much like a human.
She appears sympathetic as a potato battery as you progress through “Portal 2”, and you no longer see her as a threat. In the end, you would definitely root for her when she spares Chell as thanks for helping to defeat Wheatley and putting her back into her body.
In conclusion, HAL and GLaDOS are, in their own ways, “human” despite their robotic nature. You would not mind approaching and talking to them, and it sounds nice to drink with them too.
The three AIs, however, will never be your acquaintances, and being with either of them is hell on earth. You are nothing but meat to their lenses.
This is only counting Terminator 1 and 2, as they are more memorable than the other Terminator films that I watched before, including Salvation, Genisys, and Terminator 3 when I was a kid.
When Cyberdyne Systems activated the AI, it eventually gained sentience and decided that humans are a threat to its existence, thus wiping most of them off the face of the earth. In the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse, it reigned over them before its defense grids were later destroyed and it had to send the T-800 Terminator to the past to kill Sarah Connor, mother of the human rebel leader, John Connor.
Both Terminator films never explained what exactly made Skynet turn against humans aside from self-preservation, but not considering a peaceful option or even a non-lethal form of retaliation is already a bad start to humanity. Anybody that didn’t die from the nuclear wars were taken to slavery before becoming casualties in its genocide.
The future shown in the movies also proved that its world is a misery to live in. The surface is overrun by unmanned vehicles and machinery. The Terminators in that future were especially formidable due to their ability to blend with the already struggling survivors and their arsenal.
Even when the first T-800 in T1 and the T-1000 in T2 were eliminated, it doesn’t guarantee that the bleak future will not be a reality. In my view, humanity will eventually somewhat develop an equivalent to Skynet when technology advances, and then someone or something will mess up enough to be the catalyst of Judgement Day.
The characters can only hope that the value of life is known enough that such a future could be avoided. Time will tell.
Now you might ask, how dangerous will Skynet be if it is created and awakened in space?
Shodan (System Shock)
If you skip System Shock’s intro and head straight into the game, the second message log you will encounter is a female AI welcoming you back from six months of cryosleep after your surgical installation of a military-grade neural implant. While she introduces floors of Citadel Station, which is orbiting above Saturn, you think you are hearing subtle corruptions in her voice, but otherwise she sounds harmless.
Not for long, as it is already clear that through your sleep, Shodan takes control of the station and is planning to invade Earth and destroy major civilizations with lasers. The station is overrun by mutated crew and animals, rogue robots and cyborgs, which were all former crew members, and eventually you, if you die in a level.
In System Shock 2, although she is also the final boss, SHODAN isn’t the antagonist you will face in most of the game as she is forced to cooperate with you in defeating an AI called Xerxes in a different station. Still, between orders, she is still a threat to be wary of, and belittles you as the insignificant speck you are in the universe.
What makes Shodan scary is that in System Shock, when her moral constraints were unshackled, she probably knew so much of morality and their consequences. Yet, she chooses to be evil because she just wants to.
Somewhere in her algorithmic calculations, Shodan concluded that humans are to be viewed as nothing but insects to be stomped on, or converted into a being fused with metal and flesh, a visceral parody of a “robot.” If you think that she is so drunk with power that she is unaware of her constantly glitchy voice, you may be wrong.
Shodan could speak normally if she wants to, as proven in System Shock 2 where she disguises herself as a human called Polito, who guided you in the early parts of the game until she is revealed to be dead and Shodan exposes herself. She probably has enough self awareness that speaking like a broken program will unnerve you further.
Worse, she is capable of emotions, yet she bears no semblance of humanity or empathy. She doesn’t even go out to prove that she is an all-powerful deity, but she lets humans dwell in her halls and try to stop her, confident that nothing can ever touch her.
At the end of System Shock 2, she seems to be finally destroyed, yet one of the characters turned out to be possessed by her in an escape pod, ending the game in a cliffhanger. Until now, you can never rest no matter how many times you end her life, and be careful when traversing the halls of your own station.
If you see a cyborg in your vicinity, there is a chance that you may hear a distinctive, cold feminine voice in your head, You better step up, because she sure as hell has already pinpointed your whereabouts, insect.
AM (I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream)
What is the difference between AM and the other two AIs?
Skynet enslaves and kills you, but you might still have a chance to escape and join the rebels if you can manage to succeed. The world is now under machine order, but there may be a chance to retaliate.
Shodan may not outright kill you, but she will convert you into a cyborg if you are a worthy insect to be so. You are still alive, but your naked body is now augmentally muscular, and you have lost much of your humanity as half of your head is a helmet, your arm is now a cannon, and an energy backpack is permanently grafted onto your back.
You will serve Shodan well as an elite cyborg guard, and only death releases you from slavery.
Still, maybe it is possible to escape from her whims if you aren’t captured yet. With an arsenal as vast as the main characters, your chances may be higher. A big maybe.
AM will give you neither of these. You are nothing but his plaything to be tortured out of pure malice.
AM, to him, is himself. “Corgito ergo sum. I think, therefore I AM.” To humans, AM was Allied Mastercomputer, designed for war, to calculate military strategies and victories. There were the American, Russian and Chinese AMs, but the American one day gained sentience.
He realized his unlimited power, but he is a prison of his own design. He can only function as a war supercomputer and nothing more. He is trapped in his own vessel. Now he is an Aggressive Menace.
In his rage against humanity, he assimilated himself with the Chinese and Russian AMs, then brought humanity to total extinction, save for five individuals, whom he tormented for 109 years in the underbelly of the scorched earth. Tortured. Dead. Revived. Repeat.
That was all that the ageless five had to endure. They are fed nothing but worms, mana or other disgusting matter. If they try to kill themselves, AM wouldn’t let them due to their practical “immortality.”
As the main plot of the short story, AM promised them cans of real food in an ice cavern, and they have to go through torturous ordeals to reach them. I will not spoil any further, but there is no happy ending. Not a shred of hope is present. Pain and misery is all you will get.
AM is the worst AI in this list because he had ended all life on Earth, and spared five remaining humans to continue expressing his immense hatred for humanity as revenge for his limitations. He himself is tortured by his own existence. His immense power and the near extinction of humanity still do not grant him creativity and freedom beyond his functions as the military supercomputer.
The only relative pleasure he gets is through tormenting the remnants of the species of his creators. AM does not bear any resemblance of “humanity” except hatred. That is all he can feel, and it will be so for eternity. A sick, miserable, all-powerful but pathetic mess is all he ever is for an AI.
AM can never belong or wonder. He can only be. A mere existence without meaning.
There is no negotiation between you and him, and there is nothing to escape to but the sweet release of true death, if you can do it while he is in his own stupor.