Everything is Awful, Always: Science Fiction and the Evils of Technology

Most of us have phones.   They’re convenient.  They’ve been convenient for well over a hundred years.  We use them to keep in touch with, and gather important information from, people who are otherwise inaccessible.  This is their primary charm.  Another one of their charms is that they have never, thankfully, destroyed the planet earth and wiped out all of civilization.  Television also hasn’t done this.  Whew.  In fact, most technological progress, in medicine, in computing, in entertainment – all of it – has the always welcome benefit of not destroying all that we hold dear.  For the most part, technology that is considered destructive, like, say, a nuclear weapon, was designed to be that way.  Destructive, that is.   Other things can be destructive, like cars, but since that is not they’re intention, 99.9 percent of the time, they’re good and extremely convenient.   Yes, technological progress (which is how I’m writing this and how you’re reading it) is a very good thing, most of the time.  Except in some science fiction.  Techno-thrillers, to be exact.  In that sci-fi, technology is awful, always.

Anyone who has followed my movie writings and ramblings on the internet knows that from my earliest childhood memories into adulthood, Science Fiction was my favorite genre.   And I’m speaking here of the Science Fiction genre on film, not that of literature.  That may seem obvious, this being a movie blog but, trust me, I’ve done this before and it’s always good to get that clarification out of the way early.   Science Fiction cinema and Science Fiction literature are completely different animals.    To analogize each according to the other, sci-fi literature more closely resembles the sci-fi that was prevelant on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits while the cinema sci-fi most closely resembles the adventure/fantasy comics and pulp fiction of the thirties through the seventies.

The more adventurous travelling-to-other-worlds and/or fighting-space-aliens type of sci-fi, from War of the Worlds to Forbidden Planet, was my favorite for years and I still get a big kick out of them whenever I catch one on TCM or just pop in a DVD.  But as I grew older I became more interested in the serious, social-message sci-fi, the kind drawn more directly from the literature.  Things like the great “Demon with a Glass Hand” episode of The Outer Limits, an episode I like so much I own it.  Of course, this type of sci-fi is not without problems.  The first problem is that its message is usually delivered with a hammer and a bullhorn.  Subtlety isn’t really a trademark of the genre.  The second problem, the one I want to discuss here, is just how little faith they place in the progress of humanity, and our ability to correct our wrongs before they destroy us.  I enjoy the dark, cynical look many of these stories take as they fix their gaze upon the failings of humanity but all too often they fall prey to the “technology run amok” cliche which, if not done carefully (and, oh brother, has it been done recklessly for years), can find itself wallowing in all measure of depressing, defeatist nihilism.

Back in the day, science fiction was all about man’s failings and, in the end, his overcoming of those failings to rebuild a newer, better society.  And no, I’m not writing “man” to stand in for “humanity,” I’m writing it to mean “man” because in early science fiction, women were often relegated to either minor supporting roles or not present at all (they fared much better in the sci-fi/fantasy genre which is filled with strong female characters).  In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or The Shape of Things to Come, both made into quite superb movies,  women are unimportant to the story of how men ruined their world but also, found ways of redeeming it.    Also, in both, technology was developed and used as weapons (The Nautilus, The Dictatorship of the Air, respectively) but the stories didn’t concern technology run amok, just man’s use of that technology.

Eventually, however, with the advances of technology rapidly increasing at the completion of World War II, people began to see it as a possible menace.  After all, technological achievements prior could be understood in mechanical terms, if not fully in detail at least generally in scope.  But with the advent of ENIAC, punch cards, magnetic tape and transistors, the technology was becoming inaccessible to the average Joe.  It was approaching magic and when that happens, it’s only natural to fear what you don’t understand.  Hollywood, and indeed the film community the world over, exploited that fear.  By the seventies, sci-fi had reached the heights (depths?) of utter, inescapable, defeatist nihilism.    Seeing a sci-fi movie in the early seventies was like sitting in a dark room while a loud, angry man screamed at you about how everything you had ever made had caused more harm than good so you might as well give it up, you worthless failure.  Seventies sci-fi was kind of a depressing jerk.

Movies like Silent Running and Soylent Green basically told us it was all our fault.  We either destroyed the flora or the food supply and the only way out was to send off a ship of greehouses into space or grind up dead people and eat them.    Neither movie ends on what could be called a cheerful note but at least Freeman Lowell stands vigil and Detective Thorn  sounds the alarm (though I doubt anyone paid attention except to say, “Ha, ha, look, a crazy man.”).

In their favor, though, Lowell and Thorn didn’t have to worry about computers taking over their world, which is surprising because the moment ENIAC managed three calculations in a second it was clear: One day, computers would be our masters.  And not in a good, “here’s all that useless trivia you were looking for” way but more of a “down-on-your-knees-human” kind of a way.

In Logan’s Run, computers run everything and, of course, destroy the soul of humanity as a result.  When they reach thirty, human lemmings march voluntarily into the Carousel, a groovy, spinning discoteque-type place where they’re either renewed (never happens) and get to keep on living or they’re blown up (happens with alarming regularity) and bye-bye 31st birthday.  It’s hard to feel sympathy for a human race that stupid and, indeed, our lead characters all seem a little on the simple side of things.  Hell, they even have trouble avoiding a killer robot with no legs whose top speed hovers around one and won’t shut up about how “overwhelming” he is.

“But wait,” you say, “doesn’t it have a happy ending?”  Well, no.  If a crazy old man with the i.q. of a corn silo, living in the U.S. Capital building with 500 cats, is the savior of the world, folks, the world’s not going to last too long.  Once they destroy all those computers, how long before they all starve to death?  I give humanity two months, maybe three, following the conclusion of Logan’s Run.  After that, they’re all dead.

Oh, computers (and robots).  In this world, they seem pretty damn awesome but in sci-fi, they’re always taking over, conquering and pillaging.  Star Trek (TOS, TNG and on) has made a living spinning yarns of computers run amok as well as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.  Computers and robots just cause trouble (2001: A Space Oddysey, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Demon Seed, Blade Runner, Wargames).   It’s to be expected but sometimes, as in The Terminator, man, they really screw things up.    I mean, according to that movie (and its sequel) once we got to 1997, the computers started wars and killed everybody except a small group of humans led by some guy named John Connor.  Ha, ha, yeah right.  Can you imagine 1997-level computer technology doing anything but sucking?   If Windows 95 was a threat to the continuation of the human race, I’d say we’re all safe for a long, long time.

Of course, all of this is small potatoes when stacked up against the King of “oh-my-God-everything-advanced-is-awful,” the late Michael Crichton.  Ho-Lee Crap, that guy was negative!  You might think, “Well Greg, David Cronenberg might deserve a share of this title,” and that’s not unreasonable because, yes, Cronenberg does seem to believe anything that uses electric current will somehow destroy humanity but he’s not exclusively sci-fi, more psychological horror than sci-fi, whereas Crichton was all-out “technology is evil” from start to finish.   Let’s examine.

The Andromeda Strain was the work that established Crichton as a sci-fi writer extraordinaire and, indeed, the film version, directed by Robert Wise, is a personal favorite.  We’ve got a military satellite (it’s military and technology – double whammy!) that brings back an alien organism that could, if allowed to reproduce, wipe out the human race.   If we didn’t send up stupid satellites into space we wouldn’t have these problems!    Another writer might have had the alien bacteria arrive via meteor or comet because, in all actuality, those things can carry hitchhikers with them and this would appear a tad more realistic than a bacteria floating through the cold, empty vacuum of space until, by happenstance, it attaches itself to an orbiting piece of metal.  But this is Crichton and, by God, every technologically advanced thing we have ever done is evil so, naturally, the meteor/comet scenario is out, the military satellite is  in.  Well, at least there were no robots involved.  Wait a minute, is that Yul Brynner in a cowboy hat?

It is, so we must be inside West World,  the first film that Crichton both wrote and directed himself.  It involves a theme park where people can pretend to be in a different time, like the Renaissance, or ancient Rome or the Old West.    Once they’re here they can kill and screw as much as they desire because everyone who’s not a tourist is a robot!  That’s right, if you go to the old west section you can just start shooting people.  See, the guns are set up to detect the heat signature of a human and only fire when no life signs are evident, i.e., when you’re shooting at a robot.  And since the prostitutes are robots, too, there’s no fear of venereal diseases.  Why there’s no fear of anything except… ROBOTS!  Because, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, robots built by humans for menial pleasure seeking purposes will eventually start killing everyone in sight.    I mean, duh.   You think I’m joking but when that day comes that you wake up to find Asimo hovering over your sleeping body humming “Every Breath You Take,”  you’ll be thankful that Michael Crichton taught you to be afraid of everything.

Fortunately, the robots in West World (Yul Brynner, by the way, is truly menacing and Crichton deserves credit for pre-dating The Terminator’s relentless nature by 11 years) were just that, robots.  I mean, can you imagine how bad it would have been if artificial technology had been merged with the brain of a human?!?!!  Say, what’s George Segal doing over there with that knife?

Oh, it’s The Terminal Man!

Yes, The Terminal Man was the 1974 sci-fi thriller, written and directed by Mike Hodges from Crichton’s book of the same name.  It varies from the book for the final scenes but the kernel of the story is the same:  A man, Harry Benson, suffering from seizures that make him prone to irrational violence,  has experimental surgery performed on him in which electrodes are implanted in his brain and attached to a mini-computer in his chest to control the seizures.  This has been tested over fifty times on animals before they move to a human volunteer and once they do, just as you would expect, “egg on face” becomes the fashion of the day.

Somehow, after years of testing and tweaking and constant research by the greatest minds in medicine, the surgery is a complete, total, utter, epic, fantastic and monumental failure.   Harry Benson escapes the hospital and goes full-throttle psychotic.  At this point we can be thankful that Harry isn’t a technophobe who works in technology and believes machines are replacing humans as all of that would make matters a million times worse now that he is part machine.  Oh wait, he is all of that!

Well, at least there are no robots.

Oops.

Michael Crichton, who received his medical degree at Harvard, truly must have been the most depressing MD in history.

Patient:  “Doctor, I have this pain in my back.  Could you take a look?”

Crichton: “Why bother? Whatever modern medicine has given us to relieve your pain will eventually take over your mind and then you’ll be a machine and you won’t be afraid of robots because you’ll be like a robot and then you’ll assist them in their takeover of the human race.”

Patient: [backing away slowly] “Okay, okay… I understand, Doctor.  No, no, don’t get up, I’m just leaving.”

The thing is, I’m not really joking.  I mean, despite being educated at Harvard he… uh…

Oh, here – just read this quote from his Wikipedia bio:

At Harvard he developed the belief that all diseases, including heart attacks, are direct effects of a patient’s state of mind. He later wrote: “We cause our diseases. We are directly responsible for any illness that happens to us.” Eventually he came to believe in auras, astral projection, and clairvoyance.

Okie dokie.

Later, Crichton gave us Looker, another techno-thriller, this one starring Albert Finney and Susan Dey.   In Looker, models sculpted by plastic surgeon Larry Roberts (Finney) to precise measurements provided by Reston Industries, run by the mysterious Reston, played by James Coburn, are killed off, one by one, after their bodies are scanned into Reston’s computers.  As explained in an alternate tv edit, the models are killed off afterwards so no one else can use them because, somehow, in Crichton’s universe, exclusive contracts don’t exist and no one in the world finds it creepy to use the images of recently murdered women to advertise their products.  Remember all those companies that started using Dorothy Stratten’s image for their products after she was brutally murdered?  Yeah, neither do I.  It’s not something that would even remotely happen except in Michael Crichton’s nightmarish techno-dystopia (and, no, using the visages of Laurence Olivier or John Wayne or Fred Astaire in movies and commercials long after their natural deaths isn’t quite the same as taking a viciously murdered model and using her computer image for your floor wax commercial – still, I hate it when they do that.).

In the nineties, Crichton wisely turned the directing reins over to Steven Spielberg for another “when people make theme-parks, everything goes wrong” movies, Jurassic Park.  Same theme – “Everything that is technologically advanced is evil and will fail catastrophically” but, uh, much better movie.  My only beef: There’s no robot trying to kill everyone in the control room while Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and the kids battle the dinos outside.

But I have no real problems with the stories of Michael Crichton.  He was, in fact, one of the more accomplished techno-thriller writers science fiction had and, like I said earlier, the Terminator movies owe a real debt to West World, both in the relentless nature of the killing machine and its frightening coldness as well.   And the “technology run amok” brand of sci-fi is still a favorite, even if every now and then, I want it to lighten up just a little bit.   But as technology in the movies is quickly surpassed by the technology of everyday life, the fear of technological takeover takes on a different feel, from the benign (Kindles replace books, texts replace letters) to the malevolent (viruses replace, or become a different kind of, warfare, wiping out information and, perhaps, our identities).    And that’s okay but it’s led to rethinking of these types of plots that lead us more towards tepid thrillers like The Net and away from ridiculously over-the-top paranoid epics, like Colossus: The Forbin Project.   I like the Colossus-type movies better and although I’m relieved that our fears of technology destroying civilization play out quite differently in real life, I miss the days when Hollywood could convince us that a few scientists, tinkering around with transistors and vacuum tubes, could create a computer (with less processing power than a single app on my smart phone, mind you) that, somehow, had the ability to conquer the planet earth.

Come back, Forbin.  Come back.

66 Responses Everything is Awful, Always: Science Fiction and the Evils of Technology
Posted By quicksand : December 28, 2011 10:01 am

This read makes me wanna see “Shape of things to Come” again:):):)

Posted By quicksand : December 28, 2011 10:01 am

This read makes me wanna see “Shape of things to Come” again:):):)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 10:11 am

quicksand – I love the original version of THINGS TO COME directed by William Cameron Menzies. It’s dated in a really likeable, old-school, “everyone in the future wears togas” way and its bizarre politics are fascinating. I wrote the movie up, and its disturbing politics, years ago. You can read it here.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 10:11 am

quicksand – I love the original version of THINGS TO COME directed by William Cameron Menzies. It’s dated in a really likeable, old-school, “everyone in the future wears togas” way and its bizarre politics are fascinating. I wrote the movie up, and its disturbing politics, years ago. You can read it here.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 28, 2011 11:02 am

I also enjoy Science-Fiction. This is a timely article as there were a couple of great movies on last night (EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS and the “not-so-fiction UFOs. This is the type of science-fiction movie I enjoy the most, and if there is a terrible monster run amok, that’s even better! I don’t want anything to remind me of present-day or future problems-I want a thrilling, entertaining story with an incredible menace and a positive hero and characters that are not so awful that I don’t care who lives or dies. The so-called SyFy Channel now makes cookie-cutter movies in which the actors and actresses can be interchanged without much problem (though if they can stick in TIFFANY, so much the better). There has to be some bed-hopping or some kind of heaavy petting, and none of the characters is spotless or good just for the sake of being good. I can’t rmember the last time I saw a science-fiction movie onthe big screen that did not make me yearn for something better from the fifties or sixties. Man wtill has to make the space epic that will rival FORBIDDEN PLANET and imagine, they did that without overt sex or the teeniest swear word!

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 28, 2011 11:02 am

I also enjoy Science-Fiction. This is a timely article as there were a couple of great movies on last night (EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS and the “not-so-fiction UFOs. This is the type of science-fiction movie I enjoy the most, and if there is a terrible monster run amok, that’s even better! I don’t want anything to remind me of present-day or future problems-I want a thrilling, entertaining story with an incredible menace and a positive hero and characters that are not so awful that I don’t care who lives or dies. The so-called SyFy Channel now makes cookie-cutter movies in which the actors and actresses can be interchanged without much problem (though if they can stick in TIFFANY, so much the better). There has to be some bed-hopping or some kind of heaavy petting, and none of the characters is spotless or good just for the sake of being good. I can’t rmember the last time I saw a science-fiction movie onthe big screen that did not make me yearn for something better from the fifties or sixties. Man wtill has to make the space epic that will rival FORBIDDEN PLANET and imagine, they did that without overt sex or the teeniest swear word!

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : December 28, 2011 3:41 pm

The humans in LOGAN’S RUN were clearly the lineal descendants of H.G. Wells’ Eloi, but I never could figure out what their use was. At least the Eloi served as food for the Morlocks. What value did the LR humans have? Other than being good-looking?

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : December 28, 2011 3:41 pm

The humans in LOGAN’S RUN were clearly the lineal descendants of H.G. Wells’ Eloi, but I never could figure out what their use was. At least the Eloi served as food for the Morlocks. What value did the LR humans have? Other than being good-looking?

Posted By Juana Maria : December 28, 2011 4:51 pm

In reply to your question John Maddox Roberts, I would say super models or really any fashion model. Think “Zoolander”. Any way I have seen a lot of these movies because my dad and brother are mega-super duper fans of sci-fi. It messed with my mind for a long time those evil robots and computers in sci-fi flicks. Such as “Hal” and Yul Brynner in “Westworld”, ooh scary. Yeah, “Star Trek” was trying to warn us about technology for a long time now. Those ulitimate computers that Capt. Kirk had to argue eith until they blew up. Really funny, if you think about it, ha ha. Then at the very extreme of evil machines that take over humanity are the Borg. I can’t watch that stuff any more, I have converted from sci-fi freak to Westerns fanatic. There is something comforting about the past. Especially, when it includes cowboy hats and boots. After all, even “Star Trek”(TOS) has been called a “space western”. I see similiarities to Westerns in movies such as “Star Wars”, the cantina where Han Solo blows that alien away in(and no one cares), reminds me of “For a Few Dollars More” when Lee Van Cleef shoots Klaus Kinski(and no one cares), then there all these wacky characters with different accents(much like Speghetti Westerns), Han Solo’s outfit looks so much like Gary Cooper in “High Noon”(my favorite movie),Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker(Brian Keith teaching Steve McQueen in “Nevada Smith”;Robert Culp teaching Raquel Welch in “Hannie Caulder”). My goodness I have really watched a lot of movies! Thanks for the article.

Posted By Juana Maria : December 28, 2011 4:51 pm

In reply to your question John Maddox Roberts, I would say super models or really any fashion model. Think “Zoolander”. Any way I have seen a lot of these movies because my dad and brother are mega-super duper fans of sci-fi. It messed with my mind for a long time those evil robots and computers in sci-fi flicks. Such as “Hal” and Yul Brynner in “Westworld”, ooh scary. Yeah, “Star Trek” was trying to warn us about technology for a long time now. Those ulitimate computers that Capt. Kirk had to argue eith until they blew up. Really funny, if you think about it, ha ha. Then at the very extreme of evil machines that take over humanity are the Borg. I can’t watch that stuff any more, I have converted from sci-fi freak to Westerns fanatic. There is something comforting about the past. Especially, when it includes cowboy hats and boots. After all, even “Star Trek”(TOS) has been called a “space western”. I see similiarities to Westerns in movies such as “Star Wars”, the cantina where Han Solo blows that alien away in(and no one cares), reminds me of “For a Few Dollars More” when Lee Van Cleef shoots Klaus Kinski(and no one cares), then there all these wacky characters with different accents(much like Speghetti Westerns), Han Solo’s outfit looks so much like Gary Cooper in “High Noon”(my favorite movie),Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker(Brian Keith teaching Steve McQueen in “Nevada Smith”;Robert Culp teaching Raquel Welch in “Hannie Caulder”). My goodness I have really watched a lot of movies! Thanks for the article.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:28 pm

Jim, I too prefer the unreal in sci-fi (like computers wiping out humanity) to the real (people getting their identity stolen on the internet). For me, when sci-fi veers too close to reality, it loses its appeal as metaphor, which is what so much sci-fi relies on.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:28 pm

Jim, I too prefer the unreal in sci-fi (like computers wiping out humanity) to the real (people getting their identity stolen on the internet). For me, when sci-fi veers too close to reality, it loses its appeal as metaphor, which is what so much sci-fi relies on.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:31 pm

John – You’re absolutely right, of course. Unlike the Eloi, or even the humans of THE MATRIX, the humans in LOGAN’S RUN serve no purpose. If everyone dies at thirty and serves no purpose towards the computers, why even have them? Why not just kill them all from the start?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:31 pm

John – You’re absolutely right, of course. Unlike the Eloi, or even the humans of THE MATRIX, the humans in LOGAN’S RUN serve no purpose. If everyone dies at thirty and serves no purpose towards the computers, why even have them? Why not just kill them all from the start?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:32 pm

I see similiarities to Westerns in movies such as “Star Wars”

STAR WARS is most definitely a pastiche of westerns, samurai and mythological fantasy. I place it in the fantasy/adventure category far more than the sci-fi category. But then, George Lucas was/is a huge fan of westerns and samurai movies so it was only natural he’d write STAR WARS in the same vein.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 5:32 pm

I see similiarities to Westerns in movies such as “Star Wars”

STAR WARS is most definitely a pastiche of westerns, samurai and mythological fantasy. I place it in the fantasy/adventure category far more than the sci-fi category. But then, George Lucas was/is a huge fan of westerns and samurai movies so it was only natural he’d write STAR WARS in the same vein.

Posted By chris : December 28, 2011 7:13 pm

In Logan’s Run, if i remember correctly, to the people watching Carousel, when you blew up, you had renewed thus the clapping for another soul being renewed. If all you did was blow up and everyone watching knew you were just being blown up, how many more runners do you think they would’ve had?

Posted By chris : December 28, 2011 7:13 pm

In Logan’s Run, if i remember correctly, to the people watching Carousel, when you blew up, you had renewed thus the clapping for another soul being renewed. If all you did was blow up and everyone watching knew you were just being blown up, how many more runners do you think they would’ve had?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 11:43 pm

But Chris, here’s the thing: I’ve seen this movie a lot (yes, sad to admit, but I’ve had the DVD for years and I love it) and there’s a scene with Logan asking Francis, “Have you ever seen anyone renew?” and Francis basically says, “Well, sure” but doesn’t say who and when Logan presses him he changes the topic. That conversation wouldn’t happen if the blowing up part was the renewal. They’re supposed to be strong to renew and I guess everyone thinks when it’s their time they will be strong and renew.

However, what you say does make sense if they identify the blowing up as renewal but then never question, “Well… where the hell do they renew? I don’t see him around anywhere anymore.” And then Logan finally asks that question.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 28, 2011 11:43 pm

But Chris, here’s the thing: I’ve seen this movie a lot (yes, sad to admit, but I’ve had the DVD for years and I love it) and there’s a scene with Logan asking Francis, “Have you ever seen anyone renew?” and Francis basically says, “Well, sure” but doesn’t say who and when Logan presses him he changes the topic. That conversation wouldn’t happen if the blowing up part was the renewal. They’re supposed to be strong to renew and I guess everyone thinks when it’s their time they will be strong and renew.

However, what you say does make sense if they identify the blowing up as renewal but then never question, “Well… where the hell do they renew? I don’t see him around anywhere anymore.” And then Logan finally asks that question.

Posted By Jenni : December 29, 2011 1:05 am

WestWorld, saw it afterschool once and liked it; what the humans and robots were doing was over my head at the time, but I got the part about deadly cowboy robot Yul Brynner relentlessly hunting down poor Richard Benjamin. Tivoed Earth vs.
Flying Saucers last night, and have to go and finish viewing it. The only thing that is impressing me so far in this flick is that Mr. Harryhausen did the special effects with the flying saucers. Hugh Marlowe, seems to me, he must have been typecast to be in sci-fi flicks, as this isn’t the first one I’ve seen him in.

Posted By Jenni : December 29, 2011 1:05 am

WestWorld, saw it afterschool once and liked it; what the humans and robots were doing was over my head at the time, but I got the part about deadly cowboy robot Yul Brynner relentlessly hunting down poor Richard Benjamin. Tivoed Earth vs.
Flying Saucers last night, and have to go and finish viewing it. The only thing that is impressing me so far in this flick is that Mr. Harryhausen did the special effects with the flying saucers. Hugh Marlowe, seems to me, he must have been typecast to be in sci-fi flicks, as this isn’t the first one I’ve seen him in.

Posted By cozeph jotton : December 29, 2011 1:10 am

* I think fear of technology will only continue to grow as a dominant theme for this kind of fiction, simply because it’s one of the primary themes of the current cultural changes which form the common currency for all of us in these confusing times …

* “Demon Seed”: Well, I guess that’s the apotheosis of ludicrousness of this genre … If a computer is so much “like us” that it “wants” Julie Christie come hell or highwater — then I guess that’s when it really is time to get pretty dang fearful alright… Maybe it saw Dr. Zhivago a few too many times!

* The idea of all of these films seems to be to get back to nature as it were by “humbling” the out-of-control technological tyrant — for example, getting HAL to sing “Daisy Daisy” like it did when it was a little baby supercomputer — or un-bloating the bloated MCP in “Tron” of course — so that all its twisted and evil servants may be destroyed or returned to their good original natures (blue vs. red) .. & all that jazz

* I think in fact all of these fears are very realistic indeed — in the sense that given what I’ve witnessed in my life so far (in my forties), I can scarcely conceive of the level of changes and advancements in all permuations of AI which are likely to transpire in whatever may remain of it … Having said that, I also think it’s fair to say that we have infinitely MORE to fear from human stupidity, greed and amorality, etc. than from whatever computers are likely to become …

Posted By cozeph jotton : December 29, 2011 1:10 am

* I think fear of technology will only continue to grow as a dominant theme for this kind of fiction, simply because it’s one of the primary themes of the current cultural changes which form the common currency for all of us in these confusing times …

* “Demon Seed”: Well, I guess that’s the apotheosis of ludicrousness of this genre … If a computer is so much “like us” that it “wants” Julie Christie come hell or highwater — then I guess that’s when it really is time to get pretty dang fearful alright… Maybe it saw Dr. Zhivago a few too many times!

* The idea of all of these films seems to be to get back to nature as it were by “humbling” the out-of-control technological tyrant — for example, getting HAL to sing “Daisy Daisy” like it did when it was a little baby supercomputer — or un-bloating the bloated MCP in “Tron” of course — so that all its twisted and evil servants may be destroyed or returned to their good original natures (blue vs. red) .. & all that jazz

* I think in fact all of these fears are very realistic indeed — in the sense that given what I’ve witnessed in my life so far (in my forties), I can scarcely conceive of the level of changes and advancements in all permuations of AI which are likely to transpire in whatever may remain of it … Having said that, I also think it’s fair to say that we have infinitely MORE to fear from human stupidity, greed and amorality, etc. than from whatever computers are likely to become …

Posted By Jenni : December 29, 2011 1:11 am

Also, your intro photo is of German-born actor Eric Braeden, who has successfully played Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless for at least 30 years!! What movie is that picture from?

Posted By Jenni : December 29, 2011 1:11 am

Also, your intro photo is of German-born actor Eric Braeden, who has successfully played Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless for at least 30 years!! What movie is that picture from?

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 29, 2011 2:15 am

The Forbin Project, dear.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 29, 2011 2:15 am

The Forbin Project, dear.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 29, 2011 10:20 am

Despite so much bad occurring in technology-based science fiction films, there have been bright spots in the realm of televised technological advancement. Steve Austin was made “better…stronger…faster…”. I still want bionic legs, arm and eye.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 29, 2011 10:20 am

Despite so much bad occurring in technology-based science fiction films, there have been bright spots in the realm of televised technological advancement. Steve Austin was made “better…stronger…faster…”. I still want bionic legs, arm and eye.

Posted By tdraicer : December 29, 2011 12:59 pm

In an age where humans are currently causing a greater mass extinction than any since the dinos left us, and when we are conducting a global experiment in climate change with potentially catastrophic (for us) results, and also given that the age of technology is really less than two centuries old, I’m not ready to jump to any conclusions on the warnings found in so much sci-fi. After all, you can only destroy a civilization once. (And perhaps all those warnings have marginally affected our behavior, and helped prevent things getting worse?)

Posted By tdraicer : December 29, 2011 12:59 pm

In an age where humans are currently causing a greater mass extinction than any since the dinos left us, and when we are conducting a global experiment in climate change with potentially catastrophic (for us) results, and also given that the age of technology is really less than two centuries old, I’m not ready to jump to any conclusions on the warnings found in so much sci-fi. After all, you can only destroy a civilization once. (And perhaps all those warnings have marginally affected our behavior, and helped prevent things getting worse?)

Posted By tdraicer : December 29, 2011 1:03 pm

>John – You’re absolutely right, of course. Unlike the Eloi, or even the humans of THE MATRIX, the humans in LOGAN’S RUN serve no purpose. If everyone dies at thirty and serves no purpose towards the computers, why even have them? Why not just kill them all from the start?

Well they don’t show it, but I assume the computers need servicing now and then, and apparently all the actual robots are busy making frozen fishsticks.

Posted By tdraicer : December 29, 2011 1:03 pm

>John – You’re absolutely right, of course. Unlike the Eloi, or even the humans of THE MATRIX, the humans in LOGAN’S RUN serve no purpose. If everyone dies at thirty and serves no purpose towards the computers, why even have them? Why not just kill them all from the start?

Well they don’t show it, but I assume the computers need servicing now and then, and apparently all the actual robots are busy making frozen fishsticks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:13 pm

Tivoed Earth vs.
Flying Saucers last night, and have to go and finish viewing it. The only thing that is impressing me so far in this flick is that Mr. Harryhausen did the special effects with the flying saucers.

Jenni, Harryhausen’s work is always the highlight of any movie he’s involved in, good or bad. And yes, as Richard already answered, it’s from The Forbin Project with a little 2001 and Wargames thrown in for good measure.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:13 pm

Tivoed Earth vs.
Flying Saucers last night, and have to go and finish viewing it. The only thing that is impressing me so far in this flick is that Mr. Harryhausen did the special effects with the flying saucers.

Jenni, Harryhausen’s work is always the highlight of any movie he’s involved in, good or bad. And yes, as Richard already answered, it’s from The Forbin Project with a little 2001 and Wargames thrown in for good measure.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:16 pm

If a computer is so much “like us” that it “wants” Julie Christie come hell or highwater…

So at least we know the computers aren’t crazy.

Having said that, I also think it’s fair to say that we have infinitely MORE to fear from human stupidity, greed and amorality, etc. than from whatever computers are likely to become …

Agreed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:16 pm

If a computer is so much “like us” that it “wants” Julie Christie come hell or highwater…

So at least we know the computers aren’t crazy.

Having said that, I also think it’s fair to say that we have infinitely MORE to fear from human stupidity, greed and amorality, etc. than from whatever computers are likely to become …

Agreed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:18 pm

duke, Steve Austin was sooo lucky. I too wanted to have bionics when I was a kid. Instead I had to make do with the Steve Austin action figure with see-through eye and karate-chop arm.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:18 pm

duke, Steve Austin was sooo lucky. I too wanted to have bionics when I was a kid. Instead I had to make do with the Steve Austin action figure with see-through eye and karate-chop arm.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:23 pm

tdraicer, I’m still not going to worry too much about the collapse of civilization. However, while we’re on the subject of possibility/probability, I’d have to say that if it did happen, I imagine it would be a computer virus intended to thwart our enemies that accidentally infects everything. Now, if there were a worldwide computer viral infection, one that wiped out all information and shut all the networks down – yes, that would be terrifying and catastrophic.

And speaking of Logan’s Run, I could really go for some fish and plankton and sea greens and protein from the sea.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 29, 2011 3:23 pm

tdraicer, I’m still not going to worry too much about the collapse of civilization. However, while we’re on the subject of possibility/probability, I’d have to say that if it did happen, I imagine it would be a computer virus intended to thwart our enemies that accidentally infects everything. Now, if there were a worldwide computer viral infection, one that wiped out all information and shut all the networks down – yes, that would be terrifying and catastrophic.

And speaking of Logan’s Run, I could really go for some fish and plankton and sea greens and protein from the sea.

Posted By franko : December 29, 2011 3:51 pm

“Logan’s Run” has Jenny Agutter in it. I can’t remember anything else about the film . . .

Posted By franko : December 29, 2011 3:51 pm

“Logan’s Run” has Jenny Agutter in it. I can’t remember anything else about the film . . .

Posted By JackFavell : December 29, 2011 5:28 pm

You forgot Wall-e. A much more realistic destruction of the human race , the way I see it.

Posted By JackFavell : December 29, 2011 5:28 pm

You forgot Wall-e. A much more realistic destruction of the human race , the way I see it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 29, 2011 6:57 pm

Great topic. I’m fascinated by the way that some people react so primitively to new technology. I come into contact with folks all the time who are still weary of digital cameras and *gasp* CD players. And I won’t even mention those evil e-book readers that will surely cause the collapse of mankind because as we all know, encouraging more people to read is EVIL!!!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 29, 2011 6:57 pm

Great topic. I’m fascinated by the way that some people react so primitively to new technology. I come into contact with folks all the time who are still weary of digital cameras and *gasp* CD players. And I won’t even mention those evil e-book readers that will surely cause the collapse of mankind because as we all know, encouraging more people to read is EVIL!!!

Posted By dukeroberts : December 29, 2011 11:16 pm

Franko- You’re right. Jenny Agutter overshadows everything else in any movie she’s in. She even overshadowed Farrah Fawcett in Logan’s Run.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 29, 2011 11:16 pm

Franko- You’re right. Jenny Agutter overshadows everything else in any movie she’s in. She even overshadowed Farrah Fawcett in Logan’s Run.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 12:50 am

Franko – that’s not a bad thing to remember. Honestly, for me, it’s the cats that stick out the most. I mean, it’s like that famous Cat Congress article from The Onion, thirty-two years ahead of it. But really, it’s a sci-fi movie that chose to end up in the U.S. Capital building with hundreds of cats. That’s a pretty awesome choice.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 12:50 am

Franko – that’s not a bad thing to remember. Honestly, for me, it’s the cats that stick out the most. I mean, it’s like that famous Cat Congress article from The Onion, thirty-two years ahead of it. But really, it’s a sci-fi movie that chose to end up in the U.S. Capital building with hundreds of cats. That’s a pretty awesome choice.

Posted By Tom S : December 30, 2011 12:51 am

There are a fair number of movies in which the point is made that technology only winds up screwing people because they’re pretty awful to being with- the android in Alien is only furthering corporate interests, HAL is deranged by cold war paranoiac security concerns (at least, that’s the implication in the book), the replicants in Blade Runner are more or less morally equivalent to everyone else, etc.

Plus, there are a fair number of lovable pieces of technology- everything the Doctor uses in Doctor Who, most everyone in A.I. Wall-E, and so on. I think we just view technology as a something that enables us to act on our worst impulses without confronting what we’ve done.

Posted By Tom S : December 30, 2011 12:51 am

There are a fair number of movies in which the point is made that technology only winds up screwing people because they’re pretty awful to being with- the android in Alien is only furthering corporate interests, HAL is deranged by cold war paranoiac security concerns (at least, that’s the implication in the book), the replicants in Blade Runner are more or less morally equivalent to everyone else, etc.

Plus, there are a fair number of lovable pieces of technology- everything the Doctor uses in Doctor Who, most everyone in A.I. Wall-E, and so on. I think we just view technology as a something that enables us to act on our worst impulses without confronting what we’ve done.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 12:53 am

Jack, I generally try to keep the movies I bring up 20th Century, pre-nineties if possible although I’m not above a quick mention of a Jurassic Park or The Net when I need to.

I didn’t like the second half of Wall-e very much (with the hijinks and the “humorous chase” and chaos, etc.) but the first half was pretty damn good and, yes, powerful in its depiction of a wasted, dead earth.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 12:53 am

Jack, I generally try to keep the movies I bring up 20th Century, pre-nineties if possible although I’m not above a quick mention of a Jurassic Park or The Net when I need to.

I didn’t like the second half of Wall-e very much (with the hijinks and the “humorous chase” and chaos, etc.) but the first half was pretty damn good and, yes, powerful in its depiction of a wasted, dead earth.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 1:01 am

Kimberly, as I was discussing this piece with Laura, we talked about how knee-jerk the reaction is to almost every new advance that comes along. I can still remember cellphones being banned at work back in the nineties. Why? No one knows! Apparently because they were new and, therefore, evil. How about Facebook? Yep, the first thing most companies did was ban it until employees bitched enough that they relented. Hell, even blogging (or reading blogs – anybody remember that?) was banned. Any blog address at my old job would be filtered out along with social networking. I used a pseudonym (as some of us here know) because jobs would google you, find out you were blogging, read your blog (to check times comments were being made, etc) and then fire you.

I still remember in the eighties, back when personal computers were becoming more commonplace, teachers banned students from printing out papers on them. You had to use a typewriter! It’s amazing because 99% of the time, people’s reaction has nothing to do with any actual danger and everything to do with fear of the unknown.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 1:01 am

Kimberly, as I was discussing this piece with Laura, we talked about how knee-jerk the reaction is to almost every new advance that comes along. I can still remember cellphones being banned at work back in the nineties. Why? No one knows! Apparently because they were new and, therefore, evil. How about Facebook? Yep, the first thing most companies did was ban it until employees bitched enough that they relented. Hell, even blogging (or reading blogs – anybody remember that?) was banned. Any blog address at my old job would be filtered out along with social networking. I used a pseudonym (as some of us here know) because jobs would google you, find out you were blogging, read your blog (to check times comments were being made, etc) and then fire you.

I still remember in the eighties, back when personal computers were becoming more commonplace, teachers banned students from printing out papers on them. You had to use a typewriter! It’s amazing because 99% of the time, people’s reaction has nothing to do with any actual danger and everything to do with fear of the unknown.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 1:04 am

Tom – I think A.I. is one of the great science fiction films, personally, and I like how, indeed, it is the mechas that are exploited and abused, not the other way around. Frankly, that seems like the more plausible outcome.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 30, 2011 1:04 am

Tom – I think A.I. is one of the great science fiction films, personally, and I like how, indeed, it is the mechas that are exploited and abused, not the other way around. Frankly, that seems like the more plausible outcome.

Posted By RPD : December 30, 2011 1:36 pm

I’ve always loved scifi, especially space opera and Bolos. There is a great deal of film showing technology going horribly wrong and destroying us, however I wonder how much of that is fear of technology, and how much of it is just service to creating a story.
Say for instance “The Terminal Man” or “Colossus: the Forbin Project” suppose they install the computer and everything works like it should. Sounds like a dull movie to me. On the other hand suppose everything goes as wrong as possible, or even more so? Now you have a tale to tell.

Posted By RPD : December 30, 2011 1:36 pm

I’ve always loved scifi, especially space opera and Bolos. There is a great deal of film showing technology going horribly wrong and destroying us, however I wonder how much of that is fear of technology, and how much of it is just service to creating a story.
Say for instance “The Terminal Man” or “Colossus: the Forbin Project” suppose they install the computer and everything works like it should. Sounds like a dull movie to me. On the other hand suppose everything goes as wrong as possible, or even more so? Now you have a tale to tell.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : January 1, 2012 4:37 pm

Much of SF is pessimistic or dystopian for a reason – who wants to read about (or see) how nice our descendants are going to be and how good they’ll have it? I don’t.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : January 1, 2012 4:37 pm

Much of SF is pessimistic or dystopian for a reason – who wants to read about (or see) how nice our descendants are going to be and how good they’ll have it? I don’t.

Posted By Juana Maria : January 2, 2012 1:07 pm

Why is no one talking about how Farrah Fawcett is in the movie “Logan’s Run”? She was so beautiful and had really great hair. We still see people imitating her hair style to this day. (myself included for awhile; my hair looked gorgeous!) Let’s talk about the fashion and the tech that have come from TV, film sci-fi.

Posted By Juana Maria : January 2, 2012 1:07 pm

Why is no one talking about how Farrah Fawcett is in the movie “Logan’s Run”? She was so beautiful and had really great hair. We still see people imitating her hair style to this day. (myself included for awhile; my hair looked gorgeous!) Let’s talk about the fashion and the tech that have come from TV, film sci-fi.

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