Thursday, July 24, 2008
When the film War Games came out, Roger Ebert called it "a scary and intelligent thriller that is one of the best films of 1983." Tonight I attended a 25th anniversary screening of this movie.
It stars Matthew Broderick as a high school computer geek who wants to try out some new video games before they are officially released. Broderick's character inadvertently dials into a powerful government system in control of launching nuclear missiles (WOPR). This happens during Reagan-era tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
How does the film hold up? It's hard to believe how far computer technology has come, making a lot of the tech of the film look quaint by today's standards, such as the large floppy disks and monochrome monitors. There are also some funny appearances of disappearing technology such as a rotary pay phone and a microfilm reader in a library (back when libraries used to have physical card catalogs, no less).
The main message of the film is that nuclear warfare is a bad idea because no one will "win." Another message is that technology must be balanced with human involvement and decision-making.
In a world of increasing technological presence, how much control do we turn over to computers? Is artificial intelligence a good idea? Can a computer be programmed to think ethically? If so, what ethical system or systems will form the framework of such behavior? War Games broaches some of these topics in an entertaining fashion.
Incidentally, I live about 20 miles or so from NORAD, where much of the film is fictitiously set. There are still people in that mountain, not just a bunch of computers. No Stargate, though.
Wired recently posted an interesting retrospective article about War Games, available here.