A.I. – Artificial Intelligence

Movie released: 2001 | Set in: circa 2100, 4000

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Sophisticated androids medium 2030+
Severe consequences of global warming medium 2030+
Sex robots medium 2030+
Medical cryogenic storage low 2020+

Approach to the future

Scenario exploration as fairy tale


Futurism: 7

Entertainment: 7
Disturbing and somewhat disjointed, it seems to show its origins in the dissimilar hands of Kubrick and Spielberg.

Plausibility: 6

Interesting depictions

Artificial intelligence/robots:


This movie examines the question of true artificial intelligence only obliquely.

A century from now, more or less, mechas are widespread and highly sophisticated. The technology is nearly a century old—a decrepit old mecha facing destruction complains that he was once special, “Time Magazine’s mecha of the year 75 years ago.”

Mechas provide every service to humans, from nannying to the skilled sexual services of the “lover models.”

Though mechas could already pass for humans outwardly, Cybertronics Manufacturing wants to take them to a higher level, creating a new kind of mecha, one that has an “inner world,” an imagination, and even the ability to love.

The company creates David and supplies him to the Swintons, who have lost a child.

Given that he is supposed to convince his “parents” that he is worthy of their love, he acts oddly. He stares, he barges in on his mother in the bathroom, and has a frighteningly unnatural laugh. He is clearly artificial, when his creators could have made him more lifelike.

Nonetheless, his mother activates the imprinting process, triggering his ability to “love.”

Poor programming and design are made clearer: he disobeys his parents and harms himself, eating spinach until he malfunctions. He answers the phone, speaking in the callers’ voices. He is creepy, alienating, and ultimately dangerous, when his designers should have gone to great pains to make him realistic, lovable, and easier to handle than a real child.

And why should David’s behavior be interpreted as love? As philosopher John Searle points out, we can already program computers to claim that they are conscious. We would disbelieve them, and the claim would not hold up to close scrutiny. Why, when processing power and design sophistication make the claim superficially harder to dispute, should we believe?

Emotion and consciousness seem to be artifacts of our brains. We experience our own self-awareness, and most people take that as sufficient evidence to accept the reported self-awareness of other people.

David’s emotions are more suspect. He has been created to appear emotional, to have behaviors that depict love.

David’s father concludes that because the android can love, he can hate as well. This is illogical
—David’s emotions are designed. They are not the spontaneous and inherent outcome of a particular level of processing power.

The ultimate question remains unanswered and perhaps unanswerable: is David self-aware, or does he just act like he is?

This difficulty suggests one problem with sufficiently advanced androids. Even if they are no more self-aware and emotional than a vacuum cleaner, using them as objects will erode our own humanity.

The Flesh Fair, a kind of mecha demolition derby, illustrates this. Billed as “A Celebration of Life,” it is a reaffirmation of mechas status as mere objects. The announcer reminds the crowd that “We are only demolishing artificiality,” but more than that is clearly in danger.

At some point, the issue becomes moot. Artificial beings, however soulless, could become sophisticated enough to self-replicate and even evolve. Then what Gigolo Joe said will be correct: “They hate us, you know—the humans. They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for their mistakes, because when the end comes, all that will be left is us.”

See: A note on artificial intelligence.

Other technologies/topics depicted


The consequences of global warming have been severe. Chaotic weather disrupted world agriculture, and hundreds of millions starved in the Third World.

While Waterworld is impossible, A.I. shows what could actually happen—a full melting of the polar icecaps would raise the oceans about 200 feet.

The rising sea has drowned the coast—New York and other cities are under water, with the great buildings of Manhattan still above the surface, some collapsed, and the Statue of Liberty submerged to her torch.

Current models suggest that the most likely sea level rise is a few feet, though that would still displace millions of people around the world.

Other outcomes may include increased natural disasters, diminished food production, environmental disruption and increased extinction, and the spread of disease. Wind and current patterns could also be changed. For instance, the Gulf Stream could shift, leaving Europe far colder in winter.

The most ominous fact about global warming is that its consequences are unknown—humans are conducting an experiment on the only atmosphere we have, with the possible outcomes ranging from mild to catastrophic.

Two thousand years pass, and the seas freeze in a new ice age. Manhattan’s long-abandoned skyscrapers survive, protruding above the ice.

In fact, without continual maintenance, they would disintegrate and collapse beginning within a few decades. After a century or so lapped by the ocean, little would be left but piles of rubble.


Mechas are heavily used for sex, it seems, and by their own account popular. “Once you’ve had a lover robot, you’ll never want a real man again,” mecha Gigolo Joe tells a client.

Because people are willing to pay for it, sex is a driver of technology. Vibrators were one of the earliest electrical appliances, and the porn industry is an important innovator on the Web.

Every applicable advance in android technology is likely to be used in sexbots. Sex dolls with voice and action features probably already exist. A realistic sex android is nonetheless decades away at best, and a convincingly human-like one probably can’t be achieved with machinery—hence the replicants of Blade Runner.


The Swintons’ son Martin is in cryogenic storage, in order to arrest a disease that would otherwise be fatal.

Cryogenic storage already exists, but is used for the dead, in hopes of reviving them in the future. They are all likely to stay dead.

Cryogenic storage might have some application in future medicine, but is likely to be used for short time spans.

People still age and die—when David asks, David’s “mother” says she will live for 50 years.

An end to aging is surprisingly plausible. Genetic modifications have already greatly expanded the life spans of animals in experiments, and it is likely that similar mechanisms exist in humans. Treatments may also be devised for all the symptoms of aging.

This could cause severe social dislocations, and would be disastrous without changes in birth rates. It would probably require some kind of licensing of reproduction.


Executives checking employee records use a small fixed screen, controlled by voice command.

This is 2010 technology, not 2100. Information technology will grow more flexible and decentralized, and will not require people to gather around small terminals.

Decentralization makes the Dr. Know chain a bad business idea. Seeking information on the Blue Fairy, the mechas consult a Dr. Know kiosk, one of 40,000 info booths in which one pays to ask questions in categories such as “Flat Fact.”

Millions of people will be able to research topics anytime and anywhere, as the Web goes mobile over the next decade. Within a couple of decades, most information will be available on this basis. So info booths are unlikely to sell much information by the end of the 21st century.

The kiosk displays results holographically. Specialized display might be a selling point for certain kinds of information, but immersive display backed by immense computing power will be available to consumers long before 2100.


Rouge City is a metropolis seemingly devoted to sex.

The city as entertainment is a plausible future. Information technology is eroding the need for cities to serve as points of communication and economic activity.

Still, the 21st century will be the century of the city. For the first time, most people in the world will live in urban areas.

The futures depicted in the movies