Update – June 3, 2023 – I wrote this look back at Wargames earlier this year to explore how the film could be an early look at creative AI chatbots and how they can get out of control. With Wargames’ 40th anniversary since it premieres in movie theaters today, here’s the original article to revisit.
I’ve been fascinated by the many reports of people having text conversations with Microsoft’s new Bing Chat. Many of these chatbots show AI going off the rails. Microsoft apparently wanted to prevent this kind of activity by putting some hard limits on the amount of daily interactions with Bing, though I wonder how long it will take before there’s a way around the limit. take out
Thinking about BingChat, and chatbot AI in general with the introduction of ChatGPT in late 2022, my mind goes back to 1983, when I first saw a certain movie in theaters. had seen (yes, I am old) ; War games.
The MGM film was a huge box office and critical hit at the time, and was one of the first to deal with the rise of personal computing in the 1980s, as well as to introduce the concept of hacking computer systems. It became remarkable. In fact, President Ronald Reagan was said to have seen the film, and after discussions with lawmakers and advisers, Gov. Started putting laws in place for computer security.
In the film, Matthew Broderick’s teenage hacker David Lightman thinks he’s hacking a computer game publisher. In fact, he has managed to connect to the new NORAD supercomputer, WOPR. Unknown to both David and NORAD at the time, WOPR has a crude chatbot AI interface accessed with a backdoor password: Joshua. It sounds like Microsoft’s Bing and its internal code name: Sydney.
David is chatting with “Joshua” at his keyboard. Joshua believes that Stephen Falcon is the original creator of David AI. David was asked in AI’s famous line, “Shall we play a game?” David had already discovered “Joshua’s” list of games like chess, checkers, and oh yes, global thermonuclear war. To be fair, “Joshua” tries to get David to play chess at first, but of course, David wants to play Global Thermonuclear War.
This sets the plot for the rest of the film in motion, as “Joshua”, within WOPR, begins to show Soviet military movements of NORAD personnel that are not real. NORAD, of course, does not understand that there is a “Joshua” inside WOPR and believes that what is on their screens is real Soviet military activity. If you haven’t seen it War gamesI won’t spoil the rest for you, but it’s a really solid thriller that still holds up 40 years later (a direct-to-DVD sequel was made in 2008, Wargames: The Dead Codebut you can safely skip it).
Revisiting the original War games, I was surprised that David’s interaction with “Joshua” was similar to how Bing and other chatbot AIs connect with their users through text messages decades later. Of course, Bing Chat is not affiliated with NORAD (at least, we don’t think it is). However, the film brings out some of the very real dangers that AI can pose to humanity as it continues to improve and develop.
AI can do a lot for us. But we’ve certainly seen plenty of movies and TV shows where artificial intelligence can act like the Bing chatbot AI did on a very limited scale, from Joshua to HAL-9000 to Skynet and more. Hopefully Microsoft and OpenAI can learn from the legendary lessons of the past, so that when someone wants to play Global Thermonuclear War with BingChat, it won’t actually start World War III.