“Our world interconnected. Our systems interconnected. Our identities vulnerable.” So goes the on-screen tagline in the trailer for Michael Mann’s new cyber-thriller Blackhat, and as the word “identities” is replaced by “security,” “homes,” “secrets,” “money,” “privacy,” “safety,” and the like — along with a giant close-up of a cable plugging in — it’s easy to chuckle along with Hollywood doing one more fear-mongering thriller about hackers taking down sacred cows and exposing private information, as if such a thing were actually plausible. (Oh, wait.) Yes, the Sony hack suddenly made Blackhat’s potentially worrisome January release suddenly timely and relevant, but it’s part of a long tradition of films that looked at the capabilities of computers, artificial intelligence, and the Internet — and shit their collective pants over it.
1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Cinema’s most famous computer is also (probably not coincidentally!) its most menacing. Computers were still room-sized behemoths when Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick devised HAL 9000, the on-board computer that operates the Discovery One, but the pattern was set: these machines will ingratiate themselves with their speed, convenience, and reliability, only to totally murder you the first chance they get.