Computers In Science Fiction: Main Entry

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Contemporary or Future

Computers in movies fall into two categories, contemporary PC like machines and futuristic, intelligent computers found in science fiction.

This is a comparison of some of the more famous computers. Each has a small entry for name, interface (how they talked to people), gender (usually of their voice), self aware (yes or no), and no. of users (number of simultaneous conversations they can hold). For reasons of entry size, the computers have been split into several sections; TV, Movies, Books and Androids.

There is also a related entry on Computers in Contemporary Movies entry. This is mostly about mis-conceptions in Hollywood films about what PC and Mac like computers can and cannot do, such as the US DoD has a five digit password for accessing the nuclear missiles, and have hooked that computer to the Internet. It is included with the science fiction entries, as it is fictional science. All films in this entry are set in contemporary times.

Machine Intelligence

The main idea of computers in science fiction is that they are intelligent, meaning able to hold a conversation with humans. This is best summed up in the Turing test. This is a simple, blind test, where a human comminucates remotely with someone (in such a way that they cannot tell if it is a human or a machine) and if they cannot tell which it is, the machine has passed. Most, but not all, of the science fiction computers in this series of entries fall into this category. Most of the computers in the contemporary movies section do not.

There is a distinction between computers that can hold a conversation, such as KITT, and computers that can talk to humans and understand spoken commands, like the Star Trek computer.

The distinction between contemporary and science fiction is based solely on when the story is set. Therefore Independance Day is listed in the contemporary section. TRON and Lawnmower Man are listed in science fiction as they are based on futuristic technology. Knight Rider is in TV Science Fiction, as it was set in a future of law enforcement, although it is never dwelt on. (See the TV movie: Knight Rider 2000 for details.)

Vision of Future Computing

Science fiction shows the writer's vision of the future of computing, from the iris scanners in every public location in Minority Report to Isaac Asimov's Multivac, the computer that controls the world. Asimov's story was written when the idea of a computer in every home was laughable. At the time, all computers were monstrous installations taking up entire floors of buildings, with terminals scattered about the building.

Rather suprisingly, mobile computing featured early in science fiction. Star Trek: The Original Series introduced tricorders that had computing abilities seperate from the ship's computer. Many science fiction writers realised that the people of tomorrow would need to take their computers with them, and that consequently, they would need to be small and versatile, like the film based mobile computers in Red Planet.

Computers in science fiction have evolved alongside real computers. Many advances in modern computers have counterparts in much earlier works of science fiction, like a pocket sized computer you can write on appearing in Star Trek: The Original Series and optical data networks.

Entries in this series

Computers in Contemporary Movies

Computers In Science Fiction: TV

Computers In Science Fiction: Movies

Computers In Science Fiction: Novels & Short Stories

Androids In Science Fiction

Cyborgs In Science Fiction

Robots in Science Fiction

Androids are a special kind of "living" computer in a humanoid body, and once they were included, it was only fair to mention cyborgs. Robots needed to be included after several complaints, and it seems to round out the package nicely.

None of these entries are intended to be a definitive guide to all computers/androids in science fiction. Rather it is intended to show the evolution of the way computers & androids have been portrayed, which has changed as our knowledge and perceptions of them have changed.

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