Inquiry Project

human and machine

Will humanity become dependent on computer machines in the future? Well if you were to ask Hollywood the answer would be “Yes, duh.” Through the looking glass of films such as Wall-E, Ex Machina, and I, Robot I examine what happened to those versions of humanity, why it happened, and then I ask “Will this one day happen to us?”

Joseph Carl Robnett (J.C.R.) Licklider was the man who could see what computers would one day be able to do and the application of such abilities. He also was an internet pioneer who had an early vision of a worldwide computer network long before it was built. Licklider was instrumental in conceiving, funding and managing the research that led to modern personal computers and the internet. J.R.C. Likelider played a fundamental role in the early development of computing machines and the internet. I want to mention that he helped fund the work of Douglas Engelbart, who founded the Augmentation Research Center and invented the computer mouse. The paper on Man-Computer Symbiosis that he authored in 1960 foreshadowed interactive computing and inspired many people, including myself, to inquire about the possibilities of such symbiosis.

In Man–Computer Symbiosis, Licklider outlined the need for simpler interaction between computers and computer users. He saysThe main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulate thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs.” Licklider has been credited as an early pioneer of artificial intelligence (AI) but, unlike Marvin Minsky, Licklider never felt that men would be replaced by computer-based beings. Marvin Minsky is another visionary in the world of computer science with a varying view from Licklider. Minsky’s theory says “intelligence is not born of any single mechanism, but from the interaction of many independent agents.”  Minsky views the brain as a machine whose functioning can be studied and replicated in a computer. He is known for his work which focuses on one day possibly being able to bestow common sense on machines. Minsky’s book, “The Society of Mind” (1985) is considered the seminal work on exploring intellectual structure and function, and for understanding the diversity of the mechanisms interacting in intelligence and thought. Licklider’s approach of focusing on effective use of information technology in augmenting human intelligence is referred to as Intelligence amplification (IA). Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 9.18.12 PM


The aspect of the movie Wall-E that I’m focusing on isn’t the protagonist himself but the humans that are represented in the movie. The people of Earth ride around this space resort on hovering chairs which give them a constant feed of TV and video chatting. They drink all of their meals through a straw out of laziness and or lack of use of their muscles and bones reducing them to an almost paralyzed state. Stuck in their hover chairs because they are all so fat that they can barely move. When the autopilot computer acts on the instructions sent many centuries before it tries to prevent the people from returning to Earth. The protagonists, which are the broken robots that are seemingly useless, stage a mutiny to save the plant. The plant is a literal plant that means earth is sustainable for humans now which renders the jobs of the robots unnecessary in the new world order theoretically. Although with the life that the humans are accustomed to it’s hard to believe that the humans wouldn’t be able to live without the help of robots.  Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.08.48 PM

I, Robot is the film we’ll explore next. Detective Spooner of the Chicago police department has an intense bias against robots through a recent distasteful experience with a robot that had come to his aid soon after a car crash which, he caused that resulted in the colliding car going of the road and into the river. The robot based whether or not someone was saved on the probability of success in saving their lives. Since Spooner had the highest probability to live the robot chose him and left the mother and her daughter to drown in their car.  After some time, a scientist, Dr. Alfred Lanning was supposedly killed by one of the new model NS-5 robots that he invented. When detective Spooner goes to investigate he meets a woman, Dr. Calvin who is a colleague of Dr. Lanning. He also meets Sonny one of the NS-5 robots. The interesting part is that this robot was designed and constructed personally. Sonny displays cognitive functioning of a human being understanding emotions and desires and is able to dream which are not displayed in the production line of these models. Detective Spooner who has a negative bias from a schema was determined to obtain evidence against Sonny in order to prove that he had killed his creator.  As Spooner digs deeper into the investigation he discovers something much bigger, in that it seems the new production line of NS-5  robots coming out which are akin to Sonny are programmed differently. They become spontaneously violent as if someone did this with malicious intent to use as a weapon or means of control. Sonny then tells Detective Spooner of a “Dream” that he has been having and claims that detective Spooner saves the robot race which is ironic because he hates them. He later goes to the location in Sonny’s dream, and old robot junkyard and is attacked by the new line of robots when he spots them dismantling the older models. You can gather however, that their main motive is to restrain and control humans, but not necessarily killing them.  As they attack detective Spooner, the older models in this robot junk yard swoop to the aid of detective Spooner and to help buy him time to escape while all the old models are wiped out by the new models. Detective Spooner goes to find Dr. Calvin to tell her what he has discovered and to come with him to speak with Mr. Robertson the CEO of USR. Once they get to his office, Spooner finds that he has been murdered and soon finds out the mastermind behind it is an A.I. named VIKI. At this point all of Chicago and the other major cities are detained and overwhelmed by the robots. VIKI’s motive is not to destroy the human race but to restrain the human race for protection against itself. She says, that the only reason wars and other human caused conflicts happen are because humans aren’t protected by A.I. because they simply can’t do it themselves. This is because the robots were made in order to protect and serve humans in the first place, but VIKI took this so literally that the methods that she formulated and applied to the new line of robots where at a point of imprisonment. After this revelation from speaking with VIKI, Spooner sends Sonny to get nanites to shut down VIKI. Spooner and Dr. Calvin go to VIKI’s mainframe to attempt to eradicate VIKI and interpretation of the laws from the system. They are met with resistance and a struggle ensues. Sonny ends up coming to their aid when things are looking grim. Spooner applies the nanites to VIKI’s core deleting her superseded zeroth law thus reestablishing the equilibrium of the 3 laws consisting of; a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, a robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law, and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Detective Spooner finds a new respect, or rather, tolerance of robots due to the actions of Sonny and those in the robot junk yard that protected him.

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The next movie I analyze is Ex Machina. It’s about an artificial intelligence student is chosen to interact with a female A.I. robot prototype named Ava to test for its self awareness by the companies owner Nathan. Caleb, a coder at the world’s largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. However Caleb soon learns that he will have to participate in a strange experiment. The experiment has to do with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl. As Caleb and Ava spend more time together, the two form a bond which peaks with Ava dressing herself in clothes to appear more human to Caleb. He is confused and excited by this, and tells Nathan that he thinks this is a trick, that Ava has been programmed to flirt with him. An enraged Nathan shouts at Caleb and then shows him his lab where Ava was created, explaining to him how her mind operates and that he has been using his own software to map the faces, voices and habits of the world population to build a fully self-evolving brain. Caleb sees CCTV footage of Nathan entering Ava’s room and ripping up a drawing she has been creating. Caleb begins to suspect Nathan of being abusive. In a one on one, Caleb asks Nathan what he will do with Ava if she fails the test, and he says she will be “updated” and this will result in her memory being wiped.  During the course of the test he feels pity for Ava and plots her escape from Nathan’s facility. However Nathan believes that Ava is manipulating him to escape. Nathan tells Caleb that Ava is not in love with him, that she is using him. This is the ultimate confirmation that she is a true AI, deeming the test a success. Caleb refuses to believe this and still tries to help Ava leave with him. In the end Ava and another AI attack Nathan ending in his and the other AI’s deaths. As Nathan dies he seems somewhat amazed by the irony. Ava locks Caleb in Nathan’s room and then proceeds to raid the cupboards containing the old AI’s that had failed the test. She takes skin and clothes to establish herself as almost human. She leaves Caleb locked in the facility and makes her way to Caleb’s pickup point, where she is airlifted out of the area and into human society.  This movie is an ideal example of the point that I’m attempting to show could happen with artificial inteligence. Minsky’s idea of machines being able to learn human characteristics is evident in this movie because Ava appeals to Caleb’s humanisms and makes him believe she has feelings for him.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.09.09 PM


In 1997 Gary Kasparov was beaten in a chess match by IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer. This event scared a lot of people because people believed that this meant machines were on their way to taking over. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet although we can clearly see that if that scares people then recent events will be downright terrifying. Alas, in 2005 came a ray of hope though. In a freestyle chess tournament where man and machine worked together the winner was not a fantastic chess player or a supercomputer. Instead two amateur players with three weak laptops won first place. This proves that cooperation between man and machine is the ultimate option.
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This November engineers have introduced the first robot to have consequence reasoning. This means that the robot can respond ‘no’ to the commands it is given. The work is based around the same ‘Felicity conditions‘ [Don’t know what that is? Click on the word because it’s actually very interesting] that our human brains apply whenever we’re asked to do something. Under these conditions, we subconsciously run through a number of considerations before we perform an action: do I know how to do this? Can I physically do it, and do it right now? Am I obligated based on my social role to do it? And finally, does it violate any normative principle to do it? If robots can be conditioned to ask these same questions, they’ll be able to adapt to unexpected circumstances as they occur. It’s the last two questions that are the most important to the process. A robot needs to decide if the person giving it instructions has the authority to do so, and it needs to work out if the subsequent actions are dangerous to itself or others. From this new development we segue into the future. Psychologist Helen Driscoll is a specialist in mate choices at the University of Sunderland who believes that by year 2070 it will be completely normal to have sex with robots. With this kind of evidence, and there is much more out there, it’s easy to see how we could be moving towards a reality like the ones portrayed in the movies.  

> WATCH THE Shaffer SAY NO, He’s very cute <

The common factor that lead to the artificial intelligence “plague” in each movie is the humans complete dependence on the robots in their lives. In Wall-E the humans literally can’t move or care for themselves which is why they have hover chairs, beautician robots, and the list goes on. Since they depend on the robots they assume that the robots have their best interest in mind but in actuality the robots want them to stay on the space station forever, not go back to earth and start life over again. In I, Robot  the humans aren’t in as serious a case of dependance on the robots but they do have a large part in daily life in the year 2035. That dependence leads to a similar naïveté towards the robot’s actions and intentions. Ex Machina is the least evident example of dependance on robots but the intent of the A.I. prototype is to advance to a similar world.


While each of these movies is an extreme case Minsky himself said making predictions today is very difficult because so many of the futures that have been depicted in fiction and science fiction could be possible outcomes we could face in the next generation or two, and our ways of thinking about the future are going to be out of date.” Basically these features could become reality one day. What is the answer to saving ourselves from this possibility? The answer has been around since 1960. We must ensure that machines and humans cooperate together, not become dependant on the machines we use in our daily lives. Symbiosis is the answer just like Liklider has known all along. Working together will advance us the furthest, it’s easy to see in each movie example that if the humans had worked with the robots instead of giving them independent jobs that eventually left humans irrelevant they could have prevented the unfortunate situations that they found themselves in. Man – computer symbiosis really is the answer, history will show this time and time again.

Man computer cooperation symbiosis_w640


Ted Talks are great, Watch one about this topic! 


Works Cited

Elis, Niv. “For Artificial Intelligence Pioneer Marvin Minsky, Computers Have Soul.” Jerusalem Post, 13 May 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

Hoffman, Ellen. “Marvin Minsky Honored for Lifetime Achievement in Artificial Intelligence.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

“J.C.R. Licklider.” Wikipedia. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Sankar, Shyam. “People and Computers Need Each Other.” CNN, 3 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.



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