History of Autonomous Technology in Cinema

Let’s dive right into the evolution of autonomous technology in film, from futuristic self-driving vehicles to advanced intelligent controlled systems.

The fascination with autonomous tech in film dates back to the silent era.

Metropolis (1927)

Directed by Fritz Lang, produced by Universum Film A.G. (UFA)

In Metropolis, futuristic vehicles travel elevated highways in a highly organized and automated manner. High-angle shots of the city reveal a streamlined network of roads and traffic systems, with the implied presence of automated traffic control. Robotic workers reinforce the implication of autonomous tech. When Metropolis premiered, the concept of autonomous vehicles was firmly in science fiction’s wheelhouse. The technology required, including advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, and robust computing systems, were decades from existing.

The Love Bug (1969)

Directed by Robert Stevenson, starring Dean Jones, produced by Walt Disney Productions

Herbie’s autonomous behavior includes self-driving, decision making, and human-like interactions with people. With anthropomorphic traits, the Beetle shows emotions through its actions. It often outsmarts human characters and even has a sense of humor, which is central to the film’s plot. In the late 60s, autonomous vehicle technology was still confined to fiction. The closest technology of the time was rudimentary cruise control.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

The story follows a space voyage to the planet Jupiter in a spacecraft controlled by a sentient computer named HAL 9000. As the mission advances, HAL becomes increasingly autonomous and malevolent. The computer’s capabilities are broad. HAL can control the ship’s systems and converse with the human crew through speech and visual interfaces. HAL’s autonomy is central to the plot as its sentient thinking misaligns with the manned crew’s goals. Kubrick’s vision also features other automated technologies like extravehicular pods that astronauts use to maneuver outside the spaceship. When the film premiered in 1968, the space race was in full swing. Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, however, were still largely theoretical.

The Car (1977)

Directed by Elliot Silverstein, starring James Brolin, produced by Universal Pictures

The titular vehicle operates on its own through apparent supernatural means. It drives itself, evades authorities, and performs tricky maneuvers to kill its victims. The autonomy is central to its terror. It is fueled by malicious intent, incompatible with human intervention. In the late 70s, driverless vehicles lacked any serious research efforts. Automated systems were limited to basic functions like cruise control. The idea of a driverless car hellbent on death and mayhem tapped into fears of humans losing control of machines and technology.

Christine (1983)

Directed by John Carpenter, starring Keith Gordon, produced by Columbia Pictures

The titular car gradually exerts malevolent influence over the student, Arnie, played by Keith Gordon. As he restores the Fury, the car takes on a life of its own, acting autonomously to protect itself and harm anyone who comes between it and Arnie. Not only does the Plymouth drive itself, it also self-repairs. In the early 80s, cars with advanced AI and autonomy were still largely speculative, though technologies that would later enable them were emerging.

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Directed by Stephen King, produced by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

The main antagonists are the big trucks, including the iconic Green Goblin-faced truck, that turn hostile from the cosmic influence. They’re seemingly connected via a supernatural or galactic network akin to today’s Internet of Things. They coordinate with each other to block exits and cut off supplies to trap survivors. Other machines, including lawnmowers, vending machines, and even a drawbridge, become violent toward humans. In 1986, autonomous vehicle technology was in its early stages, primarily in experimental and research projects. The Internet of Things was 13 years from being introduced as a concept.

Killdozer (1974)

Directed by Jerry London, starring Clint Walker, produced by Universal Television

After a meteor strike, the bulldozer apparently becomes possessed by an alien entity, proceeding to off the construction crew one by one. The Killdozer operates without assistance, navigating the construction site with ease and targeting victims with chilling precision. Its level of intent is far beyond that of any machine. While autonomous bulldozers exist today, in the early 70s the closest technologies involved basic automation and remote control, mainly in industrial applications. Killdozer took on new meaning in 2004 when a real-life bulldozer was transformed into an armored vehicle to carry out a destructive rampage in Granby, Colorado. According to reports, Marvin Heemeyer created the Killdozer in response to a zoning dispute. The rampage caused extensive damage before ending with Heemeyer taking his own life.

The Wraith (1986)

Directed by Mike Marvin, starring Charlie Sheen, produced by New Century Vista Film Company

His car, a heavily modified Dodge M 4 S Turbo Inceptor, has apparent supernatural abilities. Though not explicit, the car operates with a level of intelligence and intent implying some supernatural autonomy. It often seems to act on its own will and can repair itself after damage from crashes. Its abilities are linked to the Wraith’s ghostly presence. When The Wraith was released in 1986, the auto industry was on a streak with advancements like computer-controlled fuel injection and early forms of driver assistance. Self-driving vehicles were still in the early experimental stage, with no practical real-world applications.

Total Recall (1990)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, produced by Carolco Pictures

The most notable autonomous car in Total Recall is the Johnny Cab. It features a humanoid robot that interacts with passengers, understanding voice commands and navigating streets on its own. The taxi is equipped with advanced navigation systems and artificial intelligence to weave through urban settings without human intervention. In the early 90s, self-driving technology was in its infancy. Research was underway for basic driver assistance systems like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance.

Demolition Man (1993)

Directed by Marco Brambilla, starring Sylvester Stallone, produced by Warner Bros.

Demolition Man presents self-driving cars as the default mode of transportation. The police are ill-equipped for the nemesis Simon Phoenix after a pandemic transforms society into a family-friendly dystopia. Directed by Marco Brambilla, Demolition Man anticipated many aspects of modern self-driving technology. It depicts the use of sensors and AI for smart navigation and safety. Today driverless vehicles are in their nascent era. It’s plausible that, by the year 2032, real-world technology could evolve to match or even exceed the level depicted in Demolition Man.

The Fifth Element (1997)

Directed by Luc Besson, starring Bruce Willis, produced by Gaumont

The depiction of flying cars is one of the most iconic features in the 1997 film. They navigate through the city’s vertical and horizontal traffic lanes autonomously. They’re capable of complex maneuvers like vertical take-offs and landings and hovering in place. The cabs are equipped with advanced AI systems for navigation and traffic management. A sophisticated traffic control system streamlines the movement of flying cars to prevent collisions and manage flow in the densely packed airspace. In the late 90s, AI and robotics were making strides, particularly in research and development, but self-driving cars were still far from reality. The closest real-world analogs were early driver-assistance systems and basic automations in transportation.

Minority Report (2002)

Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise, produced by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Pictures

In the film, autonomous vehicles navigate seamlessly through Washington DC. The sleekly designed cars are capable of driving vertically up the sides of buildings. They’re integrated into a smart city infrastructure that manages traffic and navigation autonomously. In the early aughts, driverless cars were being explored but practical implementation was years away.

I, Robot (2004)

Directed by Alex Proyas, starring Will Smith, produced by 20th Century Fox

Driverless cars are presented as the standard mode of transportation. They’re equipped with sophisticated AI and sensors. They perform complex maneuvers, avoid collisions, and dynamically adjust routes based on traffic conditions. The sleek, futuristic cars are part of an integrated transportation network. Although they’re fully autonomous, there’s a manual override.

Batman Begins (2005)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, produced by Warner Bros.

In Batman Begins, Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne who develops advanced technology for his missions with his mentor Alfred Pennyworth portrayed by Michael Caine. The tech includes The Tumbler Batmobile, a highly advanced and heavily armored vehicle that’s equipped with self-driving and remote control capabilities. It can navigate complex city environments, perform high-speed chases, and execute precision stunts on its own. In several scenes, Batman controls the Tumbler remotely, showcasing its automated and semi-autonomous functionalities. By the mid-aughts, some autonomous and remote-controlled technologies were in development for military and industrial applications, similar to the capabilities depicted in the Tumbler.

Cars (2006)

Directed by John Lasseter, produced by Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

It’s set in a world completely populated by anthropomorphic vehicles.

Eagle Eye (2008)

Directed by D.J. Caruso, starring Shia LaBeouf, produced by DreamWorks Pictures

In the contemporary American setting, a government supercomputer has control over vehicles. The cars are part of a broader surveillance network. The technology in Eagle Eye is highly connected. The supercomputer, called the Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst, is integrated with various systems enabling it to control and navigate vehicles. The capabilities in Eagle Eye are far ahead of what was practically achievable at the time. Integrations with AI systems were nascent, and full autonomy and centralized control weren’t roadmapped.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski, starring Garrett Hedlund, produced by Walt Disney Pictures

In Joseph Kosinski’s sequel to the 1982 cult favorite, Garrett Hedlund is Sam Flynn, the son of the original Tron’s protagonist. Jeff Bridges returns as Sam’s father, Kevin Flynn who’s been trapped in the digital Grid for years. Fans and critics praised Tron Legacy for its visually stunning virtual universe. One of its most iconic features is the Light Cycle, a futuristic self-driving motorcycle that leaves a trail of light as it moves. Light Cycles can be summoned and controlled by their users, forming instantly from a baton. They move at incredibly high speeds, flawlessly pulling off sharp turns and creating light trails as barriers for opponents. The sleek, neon-lit motorcycles are depicted as highly advanced and seamlessly integrated within the digital environment. The Grid is also home to Light Jets that can form and disassemble mid-air. With its advanced weaponry and agility, the Light Jet is a formidable opponent in a dogfight. In real-world 2010, driverless vehicle technology was making great strides particularly in military and research applications. Autonomous drones and robotics were gaining popularity in military and industry, showcasing early forms of the autonomy depicted in the film.

Oblivion (2013)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski, starring Tom Cruise, produced by Universal Pictures

Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which Earth has been devastated by an alien invasion. The remaining survivors live in a space colony. Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a drone technician stationed on Earth to repair and maintain drones that protect large machines extracting the planet’s dwindling natural resources. Self-guided drones play a critical role in maintaining security and resource management on the ravaged planet. The film features a futuristic aircraft called the Bubbleship that, while piloted by Jack, uses AI in targeting and execution missions. In the real world, autonomous technology was progressing rapidly in 2013, with major companies conducting extensive research and testing. Early prototypes of self-driving cars were being tested on public roads.

Logan (2017)

Directed by James Mangold, starring Hugh Jackman, produced by 20th Century Fox

Its depiction of driverless technology is realistic by modern standards. In the dystopian future, self-driving trucks navigate highways autonomously, traveling long distances without human drivers. The trucks feature a sleek, utilitarian design that emphasizes functionality over form. In 2017, self-driving technology was advancing quickly, with several automakers testing autonomous trucks and cars on public roads. While AI-driven trucks were not widespread, ongoing testing and regulatory efforts were paving the way for their future in logistics and transportation.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Ryan Gosling, produced by Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures

In Blade Runner 2049, advanced flying cars known as spinners are capable of both driverless and manual operation. They’re equipped with various sensors and communication systems for seamless interaction with the city’s traffic control systems.

Upgrade (2018)

Directed by Leigh Whannell, starring Logan Marshall-Green, produced by Blumhouse Productions

Several scenes in Upgrade showcase the integration of autonomous technology into everyday transportation. The self-driving vehicles feature sleek modern designs and minimalistic interiors. They’re shown as highly efficient, offering a seamless travel experience. Upgrade reflects contemporary advancements in autonomous technology.

Don’t Look Up (2021)

Directed by Adam McKay, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, produced by Netflix

The mid-sized all-electric SUV is known for its advanced autopilot capabilities, falcon wing doors, and spacious interior. Unlike the other examples, Don’t Look Up showcases self-driving technology in a non-speculative form.

Disclaimer: Footage from the movies listed is used under fair use for the purposes of commentary, criticism, and analysis.

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#digitaltwin #digitaltransformation #industry40 #singularity #artificialintelligence #ai #machinelearning #robotics #humanoid #humanoidrobot #humanoidrobots #digitalthread #plm #digitalengineering #cad #3d #bigdata #blockchain #iiot #4ir #manufacturing #digitaltwins #futuretechnology #futuretech #smartcity #iot #internetofthings #innovation #quantumcomputing #digitalimmortality #transhumanism #simulation

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2:10 Development of FORTRAN
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