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Colossus, the Forbin Project

Entry updated 8 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1969; vt The Forbin Project). Universal. Directed by Joseph Sargent. Written by James Bridges, based on Colossus (1966) by D F Jones. Cast includes Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Paul Frees (uncredited) Gordon Pinsent and William Schallert. 100 minutes. Colour.

A supercomputer, Colossus, is designed by Dr Charles Forbin (Braeden) to take control of the US defence network. After being activated and lauded by the President (Pinsent) as the perfect defence system, the Computer first detects and warns of its Soviet counterpart system, Guardian, and then develops ambitions of its own, ignoring all commands. Unlike the neurotic HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Colossus is a AI of the old school – emotionless, arrogant and practically omnipotent. It establishes Communications with its Russian equivalent and forms an alliance. When the US and USSR agree to sever the link between the machines, they are punished with a nuclear exchange (US strike successful, Soviet strike countered) and communications are hastily restored. The film ends with the two computers in charge as a single entity speaking through a voice synthesizer (voiced by Frees), and likely to stay that way. Its subtext is the usual one: better to be human and idiotic, even at the risk of nuclear World War Three, than to surrender our autonomy to machines. The scenes showing Colossus in vast caverns beneath the Rocky Mountains have a powerful admonitory charge. This is a neat, well-made film. [JB/PN/DRL]


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