Five of My Favorite Fictional A.I.s

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TIM from Descender by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguygen, collected edition out today. image via Image Comics
TIM from Descender by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguygen, collected edition out today. image via Image Comics

Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguygen’s graphic and moving tale of a robot boy who becomes the fulcrum in a war between robots and humans, releases today. It’s not only one of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve read, it’s also one of the most complicated, as it’s hard to tell who’s on the side of right or wrong in this war. Even TIM’s survival may not be a good thing for humans, though it’s impossible not to root for the “boy.”

TIM is the latest in a long line of fascinating artificially intelligent beings in science fiction–and that started me thinking about other stories featuring artificially intelligent beings, which led to a list of my favorites:

1. The Machine in Person of Interest. I’ve already gushed on how this is the geeky show everyone should be watching, but what was most impressive about this past season is that the bodiless artificial intelligence that is the Machine had the best character arc, to the point where I had *feels* for it. (There are times last season when it seriously needed a hug.) I’m more worried about its survival than about Finch or Reese.

2. Roy Batty in Blade Runner. Roy understands more about being human than any other character in the movie.

3. R. Daneel Olivaw, Isaac Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series. I first read this series in junior high, led to it by my love of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In some ways, Daneel is the perfected Holmes, an intelligent, rational being who notices all and can deduce from his observations. But it’s Lije Bailey’s humanity that Daneel eventually absorbs, much as Holmes becomes more human by contact with Watson. Why these books haven’t been made into a movie recently, I don’t know, save maybe Hollywood is still smarting from Will Smith’s I, Robot. (Which was way off base from the book, but I enjoyed for its own thing.)

4. HAL-9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL is our first self-aware artificial intelligence that goes off the deep end trying to reconcile the disparate needs of humans. Unlike Daneel, HAL can’t reconcile which person to serve and ends up short-circuiting and making the wrong choice. In other words, humans drove this artificial intelligence nuts. And, yes, HAL is in the books, but it’s Douglas Rain’s memorable voice performance we remember.

5. John Henry, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. John Henry (Garret Dillahunt) is, like the Machine, an artificial intelligence struggling with learning the human world. Unlike TIM, who was programmed to have the reactions of a child, Henry is a blank slate learning what it means to exist. One of the fascinating elements of the last season of the show was the parallel between Sarah struggling to keep her son alive while John Henry’s “mother,” another Terminator, fought to teach her “son,” John Henry. Dillahunt, who went on to comedy with Raising Hope, is perfect as the guileless face of the A.I.

John Henry in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, image via Warner Bros.
John Henry in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, image via Warner Bros.

I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive its cancellation after the show’s epic cliffhanger.

I’ve left a few obvious ones out, namely Data, and C-3P0 and R2-D2, but that still leaves so many others out there. What are your favorites?

Descender, art by Dustin Nguygen, image via Image Comics
Descender, art by Dustin Nguygen, image via Image Comics

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