Computers are machines, governed by calculations, i.e. numbers, the language of “logic”, thus the majority of AIs in fiction are represented as superficially polite, but wholly uncaring and calculating. Humans are, conversely, beings of pure emotion – perceived as floundering and fragile – incapable of rationality in the face of things that would have our feeling waver us. Computers however are incapable of such errors in thinking, as seen through fiction, but real life tells us that logic and feelings are two sides of the same coin – not values to be separated, or dichotomised.
Within the frames of science fiction, computers are superhumanly omniscient brains of pure wiring and electricity. The hairless ape divested of its animalistic emotional shell and refined to its pure cerebral core of logic. Thus, we have stories where the AI is neither benevolent nor malevolent, but wholly impersonal – undiluted calculations.
The Architect from the Matrix series by the Wachowskis is a being of pure logic, absolutely deprived of being able to fathom of Homo sapiens thinks, hence the numerous iterations of the artificial realities, before the Machines got it right.
The dialogue between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the Architect reveals how he thinks and, essentially, operates like a computer programme when updating and revising the simulations.
Thus, I redesigned it (the Matrix) based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure.
(Wachowskis, Matrix 2)
“Grotesqueries”, indeed. Or put more bluntly the emotions which the Architect and his fellow administrative programmes ‘cannot compute’, even Smith (Hugo Weaving) says this line during the very final portions of the third film:
Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why, why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom or truth, perhaps peace - could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception.
(Wachowskis, Matrix 3)
Same problem as before, Smith like the Architect cannot compute how humans think, act and emotions are beyond their grasp of understanding – beyond numerical zeroes and ones. For all the processing power in the world, Smith here having taken over it, he does not getit.
Neo, in turn, was an experiment created by the Machines to better understand humankind, thus a hybrid of programme and humanity – effectively being what Smith and the Architect are not, and more to the point, wholly unpredictable to their limited processing power. The erratic nature of emotions – the power of love – causes their circuits to fry.
HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, is all to human in his programming, having a technical upgrade over his Matrix counterparts – but this causes him to exhibit fear for his own life, since the astronauts plan on shutting him down, which in Computer terms is equal to death. A permanent existential void. Naturally then HAL 9000 proceeds to trick the human astronauts one by one and then offing them, but the main character of the story ends with terminating HAL 9000’s processing functions thus eventually reducing him to a simple moribund calculation machine – singing Daisywhilst he ultimately blacks out.
The Architect is patronising, benevolently bending the rule of not being able to hurt humans to then merely turning them into living batteries – thus serving his service to be humanity’s servant if also executioner. HAL 9000 on the other hand starts benevolent, but turns paranoid after the astronauts’ plan on turning him off. Two extremes. One is as non-human as possible, the other as close to us as possible – hence acting like anyone would when in mortal danger.
Its narrative is the “us versus them”, be they aliens or computers.
During the course of Science Fiction’s development, you could ask yourself, when did or did the transition of portraying AI go from purely logical monsters to emphatic emotional beings ever occur, or were they already present in fiction?