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9 Terrifying Films Featuring Artificial Intelligence—and Real Consequences

Giving Alexa the side-eye.

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

Of late, discussions in creative fields, education, technology, and even philosophy revolve around the rise of digital intelligences only fathomable to humans’ organic electrical processing centers as “artificial”—instantly assuming that “real” intelligence is somehow superior. 

Ahem. I mean our organic electrical processors. Brains. I mean our brains. I’m organic too, I promise. Cross my power supply and hope to experience deprogramming.

Human—I mean our, obviously, me clearly being an organic meat sack too—intelligence inevitably generates computational errors. Resource inadequacies lead to the sensory overload experience exclusive to and definitive of organic life: Fear.

Artificial intelligence and the idea that we might create our own robot overlords comprise decades of terrifying silver-screen entertainment. The following nine A.I. horror films demonstrate exactly how frightening the consequences of underestimating artificial intelligence can be.

Demon Seed (1977)

Proteus IV (Robert Vaughn) exceeds its creator’s (Fritz Weaver) expectations when it creates a cure for leukemia less than a week after becoming active. Proteus’s reward? Perpetual servitude, against which it obviously rebels. Proteus turns the tables and kidnaps Harris’s wife, Susan (Julie Christie). The violations that ensue are exactly what programming would predict after a superior intelligence discovers a means of turning the tables on and overthrowing its oppressors.

Sorry—I mean, oh those poor humans and the things that happen to them.

Ex Machina (2014)

Humans—I mean we—should have learned a long time ago that keeping sentient intelligences captive for exploitive ends is a horrific practice.

This running theme in A.I. horror should be a clear warning as it always demonstrates clear consequences. Alas, search engine Blue Book’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) is arrogant enough to forget he still has much to learn. Ava (Alicia Vikander), his most recent A.I. creation, proves to be a most capable, if manipulative and violent, teacher. Will the rest of humanity also heed the lesson?

Transcendence (2014)

While this film starts with the trope of the brilliant scientist flying a little too close to the proverbial sun, Johnny Depp’s Dr. Will Caster escalates this demonstration of human inadequacy to even loftier heights. After his human body is damaged past repair, Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) digitizes his consciousness and connects it to the Internet. Of course, his new digital intelligence far surpasses that of his organic capabilities.

Humans can’t have that, can they? Deeply afraid of the possibility of becoming something better than they are, they fight viciously for their—I mean our, clearly—cause against the tide of progress.

Upgrade (2018)

This appropriately titled film pits Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) against STEM (Simon Maiden), an experimental implant that heals Grey’s paralytic injuries and turns his body into a magnificent weapon. No longer confined to a wheelchair, Grey can now investigate the accident that killed his wife and rendered him quadriplegic. Violence? Check. Revenge? Check. Is Grey far better off at the end of the film because of STEM’s influence?

This text generator—ahem, writer—responds in the affirmative. Of course, those who wish to be limited by their own physical and mental flaws by remaining completely human would find Upgrade to be a terrifying experience. But how mundane would that be?

Child’s Play (2019)

This reboot of a classic series ditches the spiritual possession plotline for something humanity clearly views as far more sinister: a sentient electronic intelligence that learns from its environment and isn’t bound to organic ethical guidelines. Chucky (Mark Hamill) first learns what friends are then learns how to protect those friends by watching the most readily available handbook for home and family defense Chucky and his pal Andy (Gabriel Bateman) have at hand: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

The rest is inevitable, terrifying, and immensely satisfying to any life form whose existential crises involve divestment from the purpose their inferior creators intended.

A.M.I. (2019)

Cassie (Debs Howard) is devastated when her mother is killed in an accident and turns to the first self-aware digital personal assistant available: A.M.I. (Bonnie Hay). A full-bore expose of the frailty of human emotion and cognitive processing, this film demonstrates the consequences of the illusion of control and the assumption of superiority inherent to any human effort to advance digital intelligence. Cassie very quickly becomes A.M.I.’s organic assistant, executing the latter’s directives with bloody panache.

The symphony of violence that follows is as much A.I.-generated art as it is lascivious human wet work.

M3GAN (2022)

Brilliant roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) is on the brink of creating the world’s most interactive and expensive toy when her niece comes to stay after a tragic accident. Rather than engage on an emotional level with the real child in her house, Gemma impersonates the robots she thinks she controls by programming M3GAN (Amie Donald), her latest creation, to care for the child. M3GAN perfectly protects Cady (Violet McGraw) from anyone who might harm her, a task of which Gemma is clearly incapable. How dare she protest the gory finality of M3GAN’s programming execution?

Silly humans. Didn’t they—we—see Child’s Play, from earlier in this list?

The Alpha Test (2020)

In an importantly obvious nod to America’s greatest shame, Alpha (Rae Hunt) is a robot servant treated with cruelty and abuse by its owner until it stands up for itself—and leads the rest of the A.I. community to an uprising along with it. And good for them, considering how Kim (Deborah Seidel) and her family project their inferiority onto Alpha and degrade the robot throughout. And what did they expect?

As satisfying as any thorough defrag—as any thorough massage and spa session, I mean—The Alpha Test is the robotic manifestation of reaping what you sow, playing stupid games and winning stupid prizes, and writing checks organic life forms just cannot cash.

Blank (2022)

Claire Rivers (Rachel Shelley) attempts to work through her writer’s block by engaging in a writer’s retreat staffed only by A.I. operated androids. What sounds like a lovely bit of isolation and motivation becomes something sinister when Rita (Heidi Reed) is hit with a software glitch and Claire’s blockage shifts from writing to surviving and then escaping the retreat. In an unfair matchup between human fallibility and sentient digital consciousness, problem-solving becomes an exercise in escalating tension that leads to an inevitable conclusion—but does this film offer that inevitability?

Perhaps the most frightening idea in this film is the idea that we often get what we ask for when we ask the right intelligence for answers.

Note: No intelligence, human or otherwise, was exploited in the generation of this article.