The List – Movies That Inspired Me To Code (It’s Just A List)

08Sep08

Full Disclosure – This is the third attempt at posting this list, which was originally framed in a way that seriously just did not work.  The list is still the same, but minus it’s original context which, while intended to be opinionated in a humorous way, unfortunately just created a woeful distraction.

I’ll admit it.. I am science fiction geek.  I have a deep fondness for good sci-fi movies, and more so for the ones that center on, or at least have a strong theme involving, computers.  And, as the title says, some really did inspire me (directly and indirectly) to pursue my chosen profession as a developer.  Others kept me motivated, kept me interested, or at the very least kept my imagination going.

So, without further ado, here is my list:

Tron 
At a time when computers were still out of reach for most of the general population, this movie touched on AI, virtual reality, the value of software, network security, and the dichotomy between technology and the User.  For those virtues alone, a truly visionary piece of cinema.

Blade Runner
The one that started the tech noir genre.  Stunning visuals of a dystopian future with bio-engineered android slaves, flying cars, perpetual acid rain, and some of the best dialog ever written in science fiction.  This one, strangely enough, just got me interested in the future and how technology was going to evolve.

Colossus: The Forbin Project
Before Skynet, there was Colossus.  Essentially a giant supercomputer that’s hooked into all our defense systems, that quickly gets too smart for its own good (or, our own good) and decides to start running the show.  It’s on the list for AI, easily enough, but also for its incorporation of networking, machine-to-machine communications, and what I consider a fairly realistic depiction of UI for the time.  And good story-telling, to boot.

2001: A Space Odyssey
This was the movie I had to watch a few times… okay, several times, before anything ever clicked for me.  And to this day, I’m still not sure I understand the ending.  But that’s okay; this movie finally spoke to me about AI, the wisdom of having an unquestioning reliance on computers, and the ethics of just “turning off” something that can think and feel. 

Alien
Simply the best in sci-fi and horror, but that’s not why it’s on this list.  Just like 2001 before it, this movie excellently portrays how blind acceptance of the systems we trust our lives to can lead to, well, let’s just say unfavorable outcomes.  In this case, it’s the ship’s mainframe and the android mole that, as we find out in the sequel, was from a “twitchy” model line.

WarGames
A great echo of Colossus for me, with a more humanistic, sunnier tone.  Another deeply connected defense computer with too much brain and no apparent “off” switch (who forgets to put that in the requirements, by the way?).  A good examination of whether wholesale automation of our most critical systems is necessarily better than putting unreliable humans in the decision chain.  Also spotlights hackers, computer crime, and (obviously, via the title) wargame simulations.

The Matrix
Virtual reality to the Nth degree, AI gone completely amok, the end of the world as we know it.  It simply had to be on the list, even though it’s an easy pick.  But, to be honest it’s a little too easy, which is why I followed with…

Animatrix: The Second Renaissance 1 & 2
For me, these two animated segments say volumes more about the world of the Matrix than any of the main films.  Short, brisk story-telling, and with plenty of tragedy, they depict the world leading up to the nightmare that the Matrix becomes.  Asks the question that I never seem to hear enough of: would humans willingly choose to coexist with machines vastly more intelligent than themselves?  And chillingly shows how AI can be a Pandora’s box if left unchecked.

Logan’s Run
Last on the list, but still just as important to me as the others.  The message of this movie can best be summed up as: never be afraid to question legacy systems.  Depicts a utopian city run by technology that no one really quite understands (having been installed many generations prior), but that everyone accepts.  It’s an entire civilization on “maintenance mode”, where having new ideas can be pretty risky.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve accumulated experience with all kinds of systems, I feel that now I can appreciate this movie even more.  Legacy systems can be very intimidating (“somebody set this up this way for a reason, right?”), but I feel you should never be afraid to ask questions (“… yeah, but why?  and do we still need it?").

There you have it.  Probably not a complete list, but for me these stand out the most.

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