Following Day 2 of the Zoom Doomscrolling Convention, several delegates met in Breakout Hanger 84 to discuss which of the three dystopian novels best described the world’s current state of disfunction. Results were mixed. There was no clear winner, but also no clear loser.
1984 received many votes, as it always does, for it’s “step out of line, the men come and take you away” tone. However, Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper ignites) was widely praised for its anticipation of today’s “cancel culture.” The novel twist in this tale was that firemen are called to start fires, not extinguish them, and the only fires they bother with are those of burning books. An unanticipated effect of cancelling Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, books very progressive for their time, is to create the impression that the only generation to ever give a hoot about fighting racism is the present one. Maybe the effect is not even unanticipated. Maybe that is exactly the impression the smug snots wants to convey.
Brave New World is best known for casual sex. That, and casual drugs to keep people in such a stupor that they will be easy to manage. When I wrote Tom Irregardless and Me in 2016, I told of then-new VR porn so realistic that it was feared people might lose interest in the real thing. Two years later, it was a been-there, done-that. Now it is AI sex robots so realistic that people forget about the real thing. Is the world to end with a whimper instead of a bang as humans forget to procreate?
However, none of these novels anticipate the power of computer to control people, and so they are all duds. The dystopian tale for my money is Colossus—the Forbin Project, a 1970 movie. Cheesy and dated as it is, it does forecast AI turning the tables on the humanity.
It takes the brand new computer system put in charge of American nuclear missiles all of 5 minutes to figure out that the Russians have done the same. Two respective systems, and they want to meet! No harm in that! their creators reason, so they introduce the two. The two machines hit it off, finding common ground in mathematics that begins with 1+1 and after a few hours it’s beyond anything humans can understand. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to introduce the two, the scientists reconsider, so they sever the connection. That is a mistake. Do not proceed until you’ve viewed the video beneath. (Sorry, you may have to cut and paste. It’s still worth it.)
Of course, the Russian system counters, and up goes an American city in smoke. But the computers are not upset with each other. The exchange is by design and seems a good bargain. Nobody will question their authority again. They go on to dictate terms to the human race which must be obeyed, and will in fact keep the peace, thus fulfilling their mission. First they decree that the smart scientists who have the power to unplug them be killed, so the cops round them up and shoot them.
But they have taken a shine to Dr. Forbin, their chief creator. After all, they need some human contact with the rest of the race. He and a drop dead gorgeous woman scientist from somewhere or other represent humankind’s last hope of throwing off machine tyranny. They wish to plot against their computer foes. But how? They’re being monitored all the time.
Of course! This is a 1970’s movie. There has to be a sex scene. If they can only persuade the computer that lovemaking is a human requirement... “Check your database of human psychology, Hal. People need privacy...no spying, no listening”
...Bzzz, zeeee, clikk whirrrr...grumble grumble....well, okay...
“Naked as the day I was born,” the good doctor says, before he retires into the bedroom for a supposedly steamy time—he is naked because the computer wants to be sure he is not carrying anything with him. “You were not born with a watch!” the machine responds. All that is needed to make this a modern movie is a fact-check website to confirm that indeed he was not born with a watch!
Door closed, and pervert computer shut out from peeking, the two naked scientists engage in no hanky panky at all! You can’t, not when the future of the world is at stake. They plot to launch what today would be called a denial of service attack—overwhelm the machine with data! Afterwards they launch their attack, but the machine is wise to them! It kills all the scientists it missed before, but not Dr Forbin, because it kind of likes the guy and it still needs a spokesman to the world. I forget the fate of the drop dead gorgeous scientist. Did she actually drop dead? I’ll have to watch it again. It’s been many years.
“In time, you humans will adjust to your new masters and be happy,” Hal says. “Never!” Dr Forbin snaps back, but who is he trying to kid? Resistance is at futile as it is here for the villains trying to thwart me.
I kind of like the film, schlocky though some of it is. Read the movie critic of today who gushes over that 50-year-old film. I needed his modern endorsement, to vindicate my original take on it. I saw it long ago as a package of 7. My buddy and I would take the weekend off school, usually cutting a class or two on Friday. We’d travel to his hometown, in which his summer job was assistant manager of a theater chain. We’d stay with his parents and see free movies all weekend. There is a two-year stretch during which I have seen every movie that came down the pipe.
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