15 Best Onscreen Tech Moments in Movie History

One of the best parts of the movie experience is seeing yet-to-be-invented technologies. These scenes take viewers to different worlds and give a glimpse into what’s possible in the future. Whether it’s artificial intelligence to robotics or video calls to driverless cars, some of the most memorable instances of technology have occurred in motion pictures.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001_ A Space Odyssey
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Stanley Kubrick’s opus features HAL 9000, a computer with artificial intelligence (AI). HAL is designed to assist a crew of astronauts but increasingly exhibits human behaviors, such as defensiveness when questioned about a mistake he made, lipreading a private conversation, and going on the attack when it feels threatened. The very idea of a computer turning evil is a scary one.

2. Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

The doomed crew of the spacecraft Nostromo is assisted throughout their journey by a computer named Mother, one of the ahead-of-its-time uses of artificial intelligence. Mother can detect signals from other spacecraft, awaken the in-stasis crew, and respond to questions when asked. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Mother is a precursor to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

3. Looker (1981)

Looker (1981)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

One of the earlier uses of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in a film uses this technology as a major plot element. When models with “perfect” features die under mysterious circumstances, a plastic surgeon discovers computerized body scans of the models that will create computer-generated actors in commercials to hypnotize viewers. Looker also shows how a computer creates a full-body 3-dimensional scan years before that technology was available

4. Tron (1982)

Tron (1982)
Image Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

Another film from the early 1980s that heavily relies on artificial intelligence and CGI as integral parts of its plot is Tron. A computer program known as the Master Control Program (MCP) develops artificial intelligence, steals other programs, and resorts to blackmail to increase its power. When the MCP uses a laser to upload the human protagonist into its computer’s mainframe, CGI effects turn the people inside the MCP into 3-dimensional figures with human features. The computerized effects look outdated by today’s standards, but it was cutting-edge technology for the era.

5. Brainstorm (1983)

Brainstorm (1983)
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

More than a few science-fiction movies have an uncanny way of predicting future technologies that seem improbable, and Brainstorm is one of those films. The storyline involves a small team of scientists who invented a brain–computer interface (BCI) or smart brain machine. The device records a person’s emotional and physical experiences from their brain, allowing others to have the same experience. In recent years, BCI has been used to help those who’ve lost motor function due to paralysis.

6. War Games (1983)

War Games (1983)
Image Credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Company.

Computer hacking and its dangers were brought to the public’s attention with frightening accuracy during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the film War Games, a bored teen, using his home computer, unknowingly hacks into a federal government system and almost triggers World War III. The film’s realistic portrayal led to the first-ever directive on computer security, issued by then-President Ronald Reagan, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, the first federal internet policy.

7. Runaway (1984)

Runaway (1984)
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures.

It’s 1991, and robots of all shapes and sizes are typically employed to help humans in all facets of life. However, some of the robots malfunction, and when they do, they become a threat and are known as runaways. A law enforcement team called the Runaway Squad is specially trained to neutralize the robots as quickly as possible. The most insidious robots, called assassins, resemble spiders and are programmed to kill by injecting victims with acid. Let’s hope robots never go this far.

8. Deadly Friend (1986)

Deadly Friend (1986)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Fresh off the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, movie director Wes Craven changed directions, going from supernatural horror to science fiction horror. When the girlfriend of a teenage robotics wiz is declared brain dead after a domestic violence incident, the young inventor uses a robotic microchip to revive her, but the results are unexpected when she goes on a deadly rampage with her coldly mechanical persona.

9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2_ Judgment Day (1991)
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures.

Anyone concerned about the use and power of artificial intelligence can’t be blamed for feeling that way after watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In 2029, Skynet, the destructive AI entity laying waste to humanity in preparation for nuclear annihilation, sends a shape-shifting cyborg back to 1995 to kill future resistance leader John Connor. The idea of AI choosing to engage in violent, malicious behavior is enough to induce nightmares.

10. Disclosure (1994)

Disclosure (1994)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Virtual reality (VR) figures prominently in this thriller. Some technology, like CD-ROMS, seem almost quaint in the current era, but the virtual reality scene was a harbinger of things to come. The protagonist of the film, played by Michael Douglas, has been framed for workplace harassment. He uses a VR headset and portal to access digital files and videos to exonerate him. VR equipment today is more streamlined, but it’s still recognizable.

11. Bicentennial Man (1999)

Bicentennial Man (1999)
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

When a humanoid robot named Andrew goes to live with and work for a human family, they soon discover he has a glitch: he can create artwork and feel human emotions. As the decades pass, Andrew receives modifications to make him appear and function more as a human until he becomes fully human and mortal. A debate about the potential for sentient robots in real life is happening. While some say it’s not possible, others believe it is.

12. FeardotCom (2002)

FeardotCom (2002)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

FeardotCom is the kind of tech-horror film with a plot so outlandish that it seems unlikely to come true. Visitors to the fear.com website are subjected to horrific scenes of a young woman being tortured and killed, only to die themselves 48 hours later. The idea of a website with the power to kill is pure Hollywood fiction, but at least it differs from formulaic slasher films.

13. Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002)
Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures.

The Tom Cruise vehicle is notable for the featured technologies that have developed since 2002. Multi-touch screens exist in touch-screen computers, tablets, and smartphones. Voice activation is in virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The driverless vehicles in the film predate Tesla’s fully self-driving cars, and wearable technologies are a part of everyday life for many.

14. I, Robot (2004)

I, Robot (2004)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

In 2035, people and robots with human-like forms and characteristics peacefully coexist. The robots are programmed to serve humans and never cause harm. However, one robot exhibits other human-like traits, such as naming himself Sonny, practicing self-defense moves against the police officer pursuing him, and having dreams. It makes you wonder if robots in the future will fully replicate the human experience.

15. The Final Cut (2004)

The Final Cut (2004)
Image Credit: Lions Gate Films.

Imagine having a memory chip implanted in your brain at birth, recording every moment of your life until you die, and having the footage played at your funeral. It’s the plot of The Final Cut, and if it sounds far-fetched, it isn’t. In January 2024, Elon Musk announced the first implantation of his Neuralink BCI chip, designed to read brain activity. Is it possible that a brain chip in the future will record memories? Only time will tell.

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