One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie (and novel) 2010 comes when Dr. Heywood Floyd, Dr. Walter Curnow, and Dr. Chandra discover the reason for the HAL 9000’s actions in 2001 aboard the USS Discovery. As the ship’s near-AI system monitor, HAL 9000 killed three crew members in hibernation and caused the death of astronaut Frank Poole before being disconnected by Commander Dave Bowman. The lingering question in the nine-year intermission was “Why?”
As it turns out, HAL 9000 received two sets of instructions and the logic between them did not compute. As a result, he was forced to interpret the results as best he could…and he learned to lie.
The concept of an artificially intelligent liar is one that’s been around a long time. I can think back to an 80s movie called D.A.R.Y.L. where a defense robot with an AI capability was built with a body of a young boy. I admit that seeing the kid wearing an orange high-altitude pressure suit and flying an SR-71 was really cool having been fairly young myself, but the scene that strikes me the most fro that film is DARYL learning to play baseball.
He’s a natural. He hits every pitch a mile and instantly becomes the star player and the coaches love him, but the kids don’t. Especially his best friend on the team. So, DARYL learns to lie and in the big game moment, the whole “bottom of the ninth and the score is tied” trope, DARYL strikes out.
HAL 9000 and DARYL both learned to lie in order to deal with complex human relationships. While HAL’s is extreme, DARYL’s is one that captivates us as the robot asks and answers the question “What does it mean to be human?” in a way that we can all understand. How many of us have had that big moment and failed? I’d venture to guess that we all have.
Now, there are other examples of artificially intelligent liars (CLU from Tron: Legacy) who lie to humans to get the humans to do something in particular and humans in those films are gullible enough to do it for them. Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE Tron fan, and the concept was great in Legacy, but would Sam really go to the arcade? Wouldn’t Alan just call the number? Anyway, I digress…
The artificially intelligent liar found its way into my own writing. When I sat down to write the original version of Sleeper Protocol, my plan for Mally (the artificially intelligent protocol) was to simply act as a benevolent character looking out for Kieran Roark as he tries to discover his identity. When the book stalled in Act Two, I knew that my chosen antagonist wasn’t doing enough to hamper Kieran’s development. The lightning bolt of realization that Mally could become the antagonist accelerated the re-development of the book and I pounded through a new, longer draft in less than two months. And guess what? Mally became the artificially intelligent liar and the story was better for it. I’m looking very forward to Vendetta Protocol‘s release later this year as Mally learns about what it really means to be human.
Lying is a just part of being human. Isn’t it?