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Response to "The Constancy of Threat in the Technological Age"

by Alex Beachum

In response to Dominic's post, I'd like to expand upon the ways in which this film channels our anxieties towards artificial intelligence. 

Dominic argues that Eagle Eye addresses our fear of losing autonomy to a powerful logic-driven entity. While I agree with his takeaway, I believe this anxiety is mostly a cover for a more deeply-seated fear the film never actually addresses. By limiting the computer's decision-making to purely computational logic, Eagle Eye promotes in a very obvious way the superiority of human intelligence. After all, computers don't have emotions, they can't make ethical decisions, and they aren't capable of making subjective interpretations. They need us, because some things cannot be broken down with logic or numbers. The fear of course is this: what if everything CAN be broken down with logic and numbers and a massive number of circuits? What if sufficiently advanced computers could not only achieve self-awareness, but could also move beyond the cold (yet limiting) logic assigned to them in so many Hollywood films to become indistinguishable from real humans? We don't want to believe that a computer could perfectly simulate a human being, so we play up the artificial in artificial intelligence and make movies that depict our ultimate dominance over technology.

The Constancy of Threat in the Technological Age

by Survey of Interactive Media



            The trailer for the film “Peeping Tom” opens with the necessity of telling the audience to “Look out!,” not once but three separate times. These warnings, in conjunction with the constancy of the camera in the peeping tom’s attacks, suggests that as technology proliferates, the notion of threat and danger is ever-increasing. And of course this threat is not just limited to the cinematic – it appears over and over in virtual-reality films and computer films, as recently as the film “Eagle Eye”.


            In “Eagle Eye”, the computer program ARIIA is created to protect the citizenry of the United States – and when a decision is made to override the computer’s logic, making a decision regarding a bombing that has a substantial chance of failing, ARIIA considers the government unfit, and begins killing the leaders as a result. This suggests the anxiety of technology, and the idea that simulated artificial intelligence, tied to computational processes, will give way to a sentience that may result in our most important assets being in the control of a numerical logic. ARIIA’s murderous rampage based on what was a 51% chance of a probable ID, deemed insufficient, makes explicit our anxieties about the nature of computational logic itself. If humans are no longer allowed to make decisions with a 49% chance of failure, which isn’t enough for the failsafe logic imbued onto computers by their human creators – we have created the tools which will rob us of our autonomy ultimately.


            The worry here suggested is that there is an inherent lack of logic in logical programming – that logic includes an interpretive requirement, and by giving control to pure logic, devoid of the subjectivity of interpretation, the loss results in a tyranny-of-fact, crushing the cognitive awareness and judgments (for example ethically) under prescribed decisions with lack of nuance.

Eagle Eye Trailer

The trailer for Eagle Eye shows anxieties about control and who allows technology to work, and against who.

from Eagle Eye (2008)
Creator: D.J. Caruso
Distributor: Dreamworks
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media