In many ways, artificial intelligence is the face of the technological future. It’s already busily powering self-driving cars and the internet of things, composing music, diagnosing medical ailments, trading stocks, and so on. And yet, there is still so much untapped potential.
One area where the AI has been able to run a bit freer, though, is in the fanciful realm of cinema. Movies have been busily employing elaborate machine learning, robotics, and neural networks in various forms of fiction for decades now. Nowhere has this been more heavily on display than in superhero movies — especially Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe. Here are some of the innovative ways that the comic-book-turned-movie entertainment titans are bringing AI to the big screen.
AI in Marvel
It’s nearly impossible at this point to list off every way that Marvel has incorporated AI into their cinematic universe. Wakanda alone is overflowing with it. However, there are a few major examples that quickly jump to mind.
For instance, Tony Stark’s entire life is powered by AI in one form or another. His Iron Man armor can come to him when called, communicate with him, and do much of the work of navigating, targeting opponents, etc. without Stark so much as lifting a finger — okay, in Iron Man 3 he does have to lift his arm to summon the Mark 42 armor, but you get the idea. And then there’s Nick Fury’s spy car in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Attacked by a squadron of HYDRA agents disguised as policemen and SWAT teams, Fury holds them all off for several minutes before making a daring escape all thanks to his car. Not only is it tough, but it can communicate with him, planning a strategy and reporting the damage as the event unfolds.
We can’t forget Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film sees not one but two powerful AI entities come to life. The primary villain, Ultron, comes from a blend of HYDRA tech and Tony Stark’s peacekeeping program. In addition, the film heralded the arrival of Vision, an AI marvel that brought the power of Stark’s technology and the Mind Stone together into a cognitive hero that ended up playing a fairly crucial role throughout Phase 3.
The most impressive form of AI in the entire MCU, though, has to be the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Developed by combining the greatest minds of an entire race all into one giant AI entity, the being rules over an entire intergalactic empire and is likely to be one of Carol Danver’s most challenging opponents in the future.
Behind the Scenes
The AI fun doesn’t stop in front of the camera, either. The big budgets that accompany Marvel films have allowed the creators to implement some jaw-dropping tech behind the scenes as well. The perfect example of this is Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
According to Kelly Port from the VFX company Digital Domain, the Mad Titan was given such a compelling level of emotional and facial expressions largely thanks to an AI technology that was able to follow the expressions of Brolin himself. This cutting-edge tech incorporated the actor’s emotions right into the CGI character, helping to bring the face alive in newer, more realistic ways than had ever been seen before.
So how does all of this complex, Hollywood AI — both real behind the scenes and fictitious within the films themselves — compare to what we have in the rest of the real world? Every year companies are spending increasing amounts of money in a race to get their hands on the best machine learning possible — the spending numbers are literally projected to reach as high as $57.6 billion as soon as 2021. The results of this interest in this exploration-focused age of AI are starting to pile up.
For instance, while Stark’s digital assistants J.A.R.V.I.S. and F.R.I.D.A.Y. are extremely sophisticated models, the real world is already seeing the rumblings of similar, albeit tamer, virtual assistants in several forms. The customer service sector, for instance, is finding sweeping applications of this kind of technology that are helping to cut down on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent every year on the industry. This technology can take the form of machine learning to help predict customer behavior and desires as well as things like Google’s AI assistant, which can literally call and book reservations like a human.
In addition to virtual assistants, AI is making its impact in the area of gaming where it’s streamlining coding, debugging programs, testing games, and serving important roles within the games themselves.
And then, of course, there’s the poster child for AI and machine learning application in the real world: self-driving cars. The ability for transportation to function on its own and without human interference is becoming more of a reality every day. While a great deal of debate and concern still swirl around autonomous vehicles, there’s little doubt that self-driving cars will be a regular sight before long.
From Marvel to the Real World
While nothing ever translates perfectly from the silver screen to reality, there are certainly many similarities between Marvel’s incorporation of AI into its fictional world and the way that the similar tech slowly trickles down into our own reality. It comes in the form of machine learning systems that can communicate with humans, self-driving vehicles, and many other AI-driven manifestations.
That said, here’s hoping those similarities stop short of giving us an Ultron or Supreme Intelligence before all’s said and done.