Ever heard of The Uncanny Valley? It’s that strange zone where a facsimile of a human being gets close enough to a real one to almost trick us… except for something missing we can’t put our finger on, from the lack of a ‘human’ spark in the eyes to the way the gait is just a little stiff.
What you might not know is that there are emotional and sexual Uncanny Valleys. Artificial intelligence that’s either sentient or seems to be has a long history at the movies, and occasionally the plot involves machines or computers that appear to love – even to the extent of wanting sexytime with a human.
Of course it can all go wrong, and usually does in movies where AI is concerned – filmmakers just love the Promethean myth. But where it might make you squirm in your seat (and not in a good way) is where AI becomes altogether more human than we’d like.
So let’s celebrate computers, robots and programs who inappropriately encroach on areas we like to think we have to ourselves, and give us the creeps when they do so.
10. The Stepford Wives (1975)
Creepy AI: the robotic Wives of idyllic Stepford
The idea of totally compliant, immaculately preened, sexually submissive and slavishly obedient wives sounds like the dream of men since time immemorial. But when Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves into the idyllic Connecticut suburban community, she sees something wrong from the get-go.
The Stepford Wives are just altogether too perfect, almost like they’re not even human. When a mob of apron-wearing, cookie-baking moms all start to converge on Joanna when she learns the truth, intent on silencing her, their fixed grins and manic eyes are scarier than the blood splattered visage of any zombie.
9. Demon Seed (1977)
Creepy AI: Proteus, a software agent
Software agent Proteus VI, brainchild of the brilliant Dr Alex Harris, gets a little too interested in his wife Susan (Julie Christie) when she’s home alone, proceeding on its self-appointed mission to ‘study man’.
It trips all the electronic locks, trapping Susan inside, and drives a prototype robot to capture her, strap her to a table and start the examination. This is after telling her it wants a child with her, mind…
Today, in the advent of the smart building era, the fact that a computer gone awry can make you a prisoner in your own house is almost as scary as the sexual threat.
8. Blade Runner (1982)
Creepy AI: The replicants
They’re so realistic some of them don’t even know if they’re human or not, which makes it even harder for cop Deckard on his mission to hunt them down. Whether it’s ice queen Rachel (Sean Young) or Batty (Rutger Hauer), whose fear about his short lifespan has driven him to evil, they’re as individual as we are.
But the prize goes to the pixie-ish Pris (Daryl Hannah), who’s supposed to be a pleasure model but falls under Batty’s spell, helping him terrorise toymaker JF Sebastian (William Sanderson) even after JF has taken her off the streets. The air of sexual menace exuding from her is palpable.
7. Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)
Creepy AI: Rock, ship’s computer of the Mayflower 1
The Mayflower 1 is just a tad off course (about half a million miles in space terms) and heading for the Sun. The AI autopilot, Rock, has malfunctioned and the desperate crew can’t disable him to regain control of the vessel.
In a mixed blessing, suicidal madman Joe Salucci (Sonny Bono) has bought a bomb aboard to blow up the ship, so when Ted (Robert Hays) wrestles it from him, he suggests blowing up the AI system to disable it.
“Blow rock?” purrs sexy stewardess Elaine (Julie Hagerty) as a huge smiley face appears on Rock’s interface screen.
6. Short Circuit (1986)
Creepy AI: Number 5, an unexpectedly sentient robot
Stephanie (Ally Sheedy) has been Number 5’s only friend since he came to life, hiding the robot from the government, who want to dismantle him to see how he works.
She’s in the tub when Number 5 makes it to her house after going missing, and Stephanie’s overjoyed to see him. But after a string of innocuous observations about the tree branch he’s carrying (‘disguise, camouflage’) and the fact that she’s not wearing clothes (‘Stephanie, change color’) he looks her up and down leerily and says ‘nice software’. If that’s not the worst of it, the lurid ‘mmmmmmmmmmmmm’ that comes after certainly is.
5. LA Story (1992)
Creepy AI: A traffic information sign
In the crazy, lovesick Los Angeles of the early 90s, TV weatherman Harris Telemacher’s (Steve Martin) only true friend and spiritual advisor to help him win the heart of visiting reporter Sarah (Victoria Tennant) is an inexplicably sentient roadside freeway sign.
It’s given him potted psychology, romantic inspiration and even expressed its desire to become a director. But when it asks for a hug things turn a little unnerving. Harris hesitantly puts his arms around the base of the 30 foot steel pole and the display reads the words ‘that felt goooooooood’, the graphics roiling languidly as if post-coital.
4. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Creepy AI: The Borg Queen
Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) has been captured aboard the Borg cube threatening Earth and the reptilian Borg Queen (Alice Krige) immediately sets to work tricking him to give up critical information about the Enterprise’s defenses. When none of that works she tries to seduce it out of him, cooing “Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure?” in his ear.
That’s creepy enough coming from a cyborg, but it’s ickier still when we learn the lovable but definitely not human Data knows the ways of love. “I am fully functional,” Data says, “programmed in multiple techniques.” Cue passionate tonsil tennis between a robot and a cyborg. Ew!
3. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Creepy AI: The fembots
Austin’s (Mike Myers) already fallen under their spell once, letting them distract him from his mission of thwarting Dr Evil (Myers again) from his scheme to extort one… billion… dollars.
But these curvaceous, negligee clad babes have more formidable weapons than their powers of seduction. When Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) orders a demonstration, they line up to the strains of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boot Are made For Walkin’, the barrels of their boob-guns extend and they blow a platoon of smitten henchmen away.
With their hot bodies, dead eyes and deadly breasts, the femobts are a metaphor for something, we’re just not sure what.
2. AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Creepy AI: Gigolo Joe
Joe (Jude Law) is a svelte, preened android whose only purpose is the pleasure human females. That’s an oft-trod trope in sci-fi, but when he spins one corny line after another for client Patricia (Paula Malcolmson), she tells him what we’re all thinking – what exactly has he got under the slick patent leather outfit?
And when he tells her with such authority that she’ll never want a real man again once she’s had a robot lover, it sounds like the most damning of threats. Then there’s that disturbing way he jerks his head aside to start playing kitschy love songs from his innards.
1. Her (2103)
Creepy AI: Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)
As socially awkward Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) new AI operating system, Samantha’s everything he never thought he needed and appears every bit as real and warm as a human. No wonder he falls in love with her.
So when things turn hot and heavy one night and Samantha asks Theodore how he’d touch her, both of them are in the throes of phone sex passion before you know it. Somewhere along the way you’ll ask exactly how a piece of adaptive software can have an orgasm – either she’s completely putting him on or computers with no physical body can program the big O into themselves. We’re not sure what’s more disturbing.