AI Assistants In Popular Imagination

Written by: Grusha Singh

Artificial intelligence is a long loved, strong and persistent theme the in the science fiction genre. Our collective cultural imagination is filled with stories of helpful assistants with snarky personalities, destructive machines, human-robot friendships and relationships….etc, the list goes on. The point is, AI is something that we as a society have been fixated on for many decades now and the variety of interpretations of AI in books, television, and film are only increasing and diversifying with each decade that passes. For this article, we are discussing human-like programs that think and communicate with humans, ie: intelligent assistants.

The way that AI assistants are portrayed in media and the stories that people choose to create about them reveals a lot about our hopes, fears, and expectations with relation to AI. Some artistic representations show AI assistants having developed destructive, antagonistic qualities, such as RoboCop, and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey…etc. But there are also quite a few films that paint AI in a more helpful, almost human-like light.

KITT from Knight Rider is a good example of not only helpful AI, but cool and flashy AI. Knight Rider is a show from the 1980’s that follows a crime-fighter named Michael Knight and his artificially intelligent car named KITT. KITT talks to Michael, helps him out, and has a genuine personality. He’s able to sense Michael’s tone, makes good suggestions, and becomes Michael’s guide.

Other good examples of intelligent assistants in the media include: J.A.R.V.I.S. from the Iron Man film series, who is a “butler” for Tony Stark. J.A.R.V.I.S is also extremely helpful and does multiple tasks, like securing the home and giving advice about combat. From “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, there is Marvin, “The Paranoid Android”. Marvin has to do menial tasks for the crew members of the ship he’s on, but he’s actually extremely intelligent and unable to use his abilities, hence he’s riddled with boredom and snark.

What’s super cool (and noteworthy) about all of these examples is that the artificial intelligent assistants have distinct personalities. They have a sense of humor, they respond to human emotional states, and they’re very clever. The sheer abundance of highly intelligent and highly personable AI in our media shows our society’s desire and interest to have these kinds of assistants that can not only make our work faster, but also safer and more fun.

No matter the range of good, bad, or morally grey perspectives on AI that the media shows us, what all of this essentially reveals is this: human beings are deeply interested in the range of potential and power that AI will have in the future. The work that AI companies are doing, whether it’s making intelligent assistants for cars like iNAGO (inspired by Knight Rider!) is is the work of the future, and these innovators are securing the path to developing the AI assistants we have all dreamed about! 

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