Thursday, 2 April 2015

Robots and coding on screen

Today's Radio 4 portmanteau "Film Programme" meets "Inside Science" was short on science but rather better on entertainment. I was particularly interested in Christopher Frayling's tracing of the ancestries of robots and androids in SF movies - a sort of "Who are you programmed to think you are?" - and in Bill Thompson on the representation of programs on screen.

There was not time for Sir Christopher to cover all the iconic robots in film history if they didn't actually innovate (Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still", for instance), but I would quarrel with his nomination of Pris in "Blade Runner" as the archetypal android sex-toy. I believe that honour goes to Michael Crichton's creations in "Westworld".

I completely agree with Thompson that there is no good representation of actual computer code in major movies. I would nominate sequences from a minor TV SF melodrama, "Natural Selection", as the most realistic depiction of a programmer at work. As someone who used to make a living from that stuff, I share Thompson's joy in spotting that part of the source code that is seen through the eyes of the original Terminator is in COBOL, venerable but still not bettered for administrative and accounting functions. "So basically the Terminator is an accounting program run amok", The more apocalyptic critics of big business would probably not object.

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