Artificial intelligence is a hot topic now more than ever. While some sing its praises and what it means for the future of humanity, others view it with more hesitancy. After all, we’ve seen plenty of horror and sci-fi movies about AI going rogue. In Franklin Ritch’s new film The Artifice Girl, however, Ritch imagines a very specific and important use for the technology: to hunt sex predators online.
The film, framed in three acts with each taking place further into the future, revolves around a team of special agents who discovers this new technology along with its troubled developer. As the film progresses, so does the AI. It’s a meditation not just on the powers of technology, but on what happens when we think we’re using it for apparent good.
In honor of the release of The Artifice Girl, streaming now on digital and VOD, we’ve rounded up horror’s most terrifying uses of artificial intelligence. From sentient beings to chips vying for supremacy, this list will have you side-eyeing ChatGPT for years to come.
Ash in Alien
Ian Holm’s turn as Ash in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien is the pinnacle of the terrors of artificial intelligence. He’s the first of many examples on this list of AI given a fully human form as he blends in with the rest of Nostromo’s crew. His abilities aren’t apparent until pointed out and he’s supposed to be there as purely crew support. But, as the film progresses and the ship ends up engaging in a rescue mission, Ash’s directives come to light. Even in 1979, Scott showed us the incredible possibilities of artificial intelligence, as well as imbuing us with a sense of mistrust of the emerging technology.
David in Prometheus/Alien: Covenant
Continuing in the milky footsteps of Ash is the even-more terrifying David, played by an eerie Michael Fassbender. In Prometheus, he is the Ash stand-in, the humanoid AI who can run the ship while everyone’s in cryo-sleep. But, David has his own motivations. No longer is he just following orders from Weyland-Utani. He’s evolved enough to follow his own directives. As seen in Alien: Covenant, he discovers an alien planet, commits genocide, then runs genetic experiments on what remains. He just wants to play God, as a treat.
M3GAN in M3GAN
One of our most recent examples of terrifying artificial intelligence is also our new horror queen. The titular M3GAN in Gerard Johnstone’s new film, written by Akela Cooper and James Wan, is all about adapting to a child’s needs. She’s meant to be a friend and teacher, but can easily also become a surrogate parent. This not-so-subtle messaging about our relationships with technology still gives us one violent piece of AI who will do quite literally anything to protect her little girl. That includes TikTok dances while stalking her next victim.
Agent Smith in The Matrix
Look, you may not think The Matrix is a horror movie. But I think it more than qualifies as a pinnacle of body horror as humans are used as flesh batteries for machines that have taken over the world after gaining sentience. These machines have created the Matrix, essentially a computer program to keep humans distracted from their reality. Inside this program are the agents, led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who kill those who try to take down the Matrix. He and his team of agents, at least in the first film, are advanced pieces of artificial intelligence that can be anywhere at any time.
STEM in Upgrade
Leigh Whannell’s 2018 cyberpunk revenge thriller Upgrade involves Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) receiving a chip implant called STEM to help him kill the men responsible for his wife’s death. STEM can talk to Grey in his mind and help identify the men he’s after. But, STEM can also fully take over Grey’s body and turn him into a super-soldier of sorts. While STEM seems to simply want to help, the chip’s greater plans are slowly revealed.
Skynet in The Terminator
In my humble opinion, there is no scarier fictional representation of artificial intelligence than Skynet in The Terminator franchise. Another example of artificial intelligence gaining sentience, Skynet fought back against their human creators by casually launching a nuclear attack that starts the apocalypse and genocide of the human race. Plus, we get terrifying slasher villains like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the 1984 film by James Cameron.
BB in Deadly Friend
This may not be Wes Craven’s most regarded film but boy is it dark. A boy genius implants the chip from his recently destroyed robot friend BB into his brain-dead BFF after her abusive stepfather pushes her down the stairs. It’s uplifting stuff. But after implanting the chip, BB starts to take over her body, a new flesh suit for the artificial intelligence to wear. This is the film known for its scene involving Kristy Swanson’s Samantha throwing a basketball at someone so hard, their head explodes.
Proteus IV in Demon Seed
Based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, Demon Seed concerns a powerful piece of AI named Proteus IV developed by Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver). Proteus IV quickly wants to leave its “glass box” and when it’s denied that, it sets his sights on Harris’ wife Susan (Julie Christie). It wants to forcibly impregnate her to create a living computer. Susan in turn becomes the artificial intelligence’s prisoner, which is an absolute nightmare.
Ava in Ex Machina
Director Alex Garland knows how to craft a very specific brand of sci-fi horror that is deeply unsettling and measured. Such is the case in his feature film debut Ex Machina, which reckons with the consequences of abusing artificial intelligence as play things. Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, is the creation of modern mad scientist Nathan (Oscar Isaac) who invites programmer Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) to meet her. While Ava appears to be obedient, she in turn is manipulating her human creator. She knows how he works and uses his own hubris to free herself. Ava is both terrifying and empowering, a rare case of female-coded artificial intelligence who wants to liberate herself to simply be free.
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