Category: Colossus: The Forbin Project

Inventory: “I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That”: 17 Dangerous Cinematic Computers

2. Colossus, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Film in the 1970s had an oddly awestruck notion of the power that computers might hold over our daily lives, with much hand-wringing and nightmares over the potential loss of our free will to cold, unfeeling machines. That played into the era’s Cold War fears as well, of course, since computer control was increasingly part of the strategy of both superpowers’ nuclear arsenals. Human error might send a nuke to kill millions by accident or insane design, but could computers really be trusted not to make their own mistakes? The 1970 thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project imagines the horrifying consequences of abrogating human responsibility over our own fate, as the all-too-foolproof computer system Colossus develops its own sinister agenda almost immediately after the U.S. missile system is placed in its control. Developing an alliance with the Soviets’ computer, Colossus decides that humans cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs, and takes over the world by threatening nuclear annihilation if its demands aren’t met. Though the movie is frustratingly slow, like a Twilight Zone episode padded to 90 minutes, Colossus’ malevolent pronouncements are truly chilling, proclaiming its new world order in a way worthy of a Bond villain: “I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours. Obey me and live. Disobey and die.”

Originally published on Aug. 20, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the section on Colossus: The Forbin Project. Read the complete article.

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