Computer Villains

Computer Villains

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There are several genres of Science Fiction that are based on social commentary and a critique of society; the ‘Mad Scientist’ who pursues knowledge without regard for the consequences of his actions, Dystopias which are rebellions against technologically advanced totalitarian societies, and Post-Apocalypses which are usually the result of runaway and/or destructive scientific developments. An interesting sub-genre of social commentary science fiction is the Computer Villain.

By the late 1960s computers were beginning to have a significant impact on the lives of everyday Americans.  Banks, Libraries, and NASA were using machine readable records and communicating using modems and telephones in what would become the backbone of the Internet.  Many businesses were automating, payroll, accounting, and billing functions.  As more American had their lives and jobs affected by computers it became natural that fear of the increasing intrusion of computer technology in our lives would result in computers becoming a major plot device in movies.  By the mid 70’s, most Americans had some kind of contact with computers or computer generated documents and by the 1980 ‘home computers’ were becoming common.

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The Hal 9000 from 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968) is quite possibly the most famous of all Computer Movie Villains. Movies as diverse as Wall-E (2008) and Independence Day (1996) have paid homage to the Hal 9000.  In the 1970s Westworld (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976) had elements of Computers as antagonists.  In 1977 Proteus was a particularly nasty Computer Villain in the movie Demon Seed,  but it is really in the 1980’s that the Computer Villain takes center stage.  Tron (1982) had the Master Control program as the villain, War Games (1983) had the WOPR, a NORAD computer that didn’t know the difference between a war game simulation and a real nuclear war, in Superman 3 (1983) the Super Computer fights Superman in the finale, Electric Dreams (1984) had Edgar, a personal computer that takes over the life of its owner, and of course Skynet the computer intelligence in Terminator (1984) that wants to destroy mankind.

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The novelty of the Computer Villain has sort of worn off since the 1980s but still makes for a popular movie adversary . The Matrix(1999) was a very popular Dystopian-Computer Villain Hybrid, VIKI the Computer in I Robot (2004) wanted to establish a dystopian totalitarian dictatorship, and Arnim Zola in Captain America: the Winter Soldier (2014) are all wonderful villains that should keep us fearing and respecting our possible future computer overlords.