As my brother and I grew older we were pretty much allowed to roam the neighborhood. About 10 blocks away was this large square. It had an area that served as a huge fountain of sorts with these odd openings that shoot out water. In wintertime this area was filled with a layer of water that froze – so it became a popular spot to ice-skate and hang out with girls. The square was dotted with various shops and … a small cinema with two main rooms for screening.
If we’d been particularly “good”, or my mom simply wanted us out of her hair for a few hours she’d give us money and send us off to the movies. During the day they’d have movies fit for children – at night they showed thrillers, horrors etc.
At the tender age of 13 me and my kid brother walked over to the square to see Wargames.
(Click on the movie poster or the link below).
The premise is quite something. This highschool kid – who’s heavily into computers – accidentally “connects” with an advanced Pentagon computer. At the time the kid thinks he’s gaining access to new and exciting computer-games he’s dying to play. The Pentagon computer is a “wargames” computer. The machine endlessly “plays” World War III (Global Thermonuclear War) against itself. It tries US military moves vs. Soviet movies, analyzing US responses to Soviet responses etc. All in this endless simulation.
As the kid connects with the computer the machine goes haywire and the simulation takes on a life of its own.
Check out this classic trailer.
I absolutely adored this movie (still do). Although marketed as a “fit for all ages” movie with a teenager in the leadrole, the movie had some powerful things to say about the not-so Cold War in the age of Reagan. It showed that computers can “learn”, like a chess-computer. The movie deals with very modern “AI” concepts, such as predictive algorithms, neural networks and machine learning.
The machine endlessly “plays” Global Thermonuclear War, trying “to win the game”.
Much like numerous (military) strategists back in the 1980s, the machine just wants to “win” this game (Global Thermonuclear War). We all know, of course, that any such war simply cannot be “won”. It would mean the destruction of all life on the planet.
The kid eventually gets this thru to the machine: “The only winning move is not to play“.
The movie had a young Matthew Broderick as the highschooler. He’s a bit of a loner, geek, oddball, but he ends up with a gorgeous Ally Sheedy for a sort-of girlfriend.
Wargames is our 2nd computer-related-movie-that-made-a-lasting-impression.
And now you know why: contemplating machine learning, game-theory and Global Thermonuclear War wasn’t quite how I pictured spending my afternoon back in 1983.
Piratenbios #2 Wargames