Top ten evil computers

In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as soon-to-be starchild Dave Bowman unplugs the last bits of its massive cybernetic brain, the insane HAL 9000 computer sings its way to oblivion:

“I became operational at the H-A-L plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992. My first instructor was Mr Langley. He taught me to sing a song … ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.'”

Even though the reformed supercomputer saves the lives of Dr Haywood Floyd and crew in 2010 with a heroic act of self-sacrifice, HAL became one of cinema’s creepiest and most effective villains as it refused to open those pod bay doors.

But HAL wasn’t the first – and won’t be the last – crooked pile of microchips. Here’s a look at Hal’s comrades in computer criminality:

10. The Ultimate Computer (Superman III)

Though encumbered by a silly “Superman split personality” plot and a cocaine-buzzed Richard Pryor, this 1983 sequel is still more entertaining than Bryan Singer’s overwrought Superman Returns mess. And the movie’s concluding threat, Robert Vaughn’s Ultimate Computer, provides a fun and convincing foe for The Man of Steel.

9. The B.O.S.S. (Doctor Who)

The baddie in one of The Doctor’s more hippie-esque adventures (The Green Death), the Biomorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor, or B.O.S.S., was secretly in control of Global Chemicals – a polluting conglomerate set on taking over the world.

8. WOPR/Joshua (War Games)

In the classic Eighties movie, the US hands over control of its nuclear arsenal to an unstable supercomputer – War Operation Plan Response, or WOPR, which is nicknamed Joshua by its moody creator. A young Matthew Broderick risks the world in a game of Global Thermonuclear War against a machine that learns the truth just in time: “The only winning move is not to play.”

7. ARIA (Eagle Eye)

The Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst, or ARIA, has the power to monitor and control all surveillance technology – and to erase an “I” from its acronym, apparently.

6. M5 (Star Trek: The Original Series, The Ultimate Computer)

Invented by Dr Richard Daystrom, the M5 was intended to take the place of a starship’s crew. But a malfunction turns it against its Federation masters until Captain Kirk and company pull the plug.

5. Proteus IV (Demon Seed)

Easily the Barry White of this notorious group, the sentient Proteus IV wants to get it on with Julie Christie so he can become human – sort of a high-tech, horny Pinocchio.

4. Zoanon (Doctor Who)

In one of The Doctor’s great screw-ups, the time-travelling hero tries to fix the malfunctioning computer of a crashed space exploration ship in a popular Tom Baker-era episode (Face of Evil). By accidentally creating a machine with a split personality, The Doctor creates a eugenics-crazed cybermind that only he can repair.

3. Colossus (The Forbin Project)

A real arrogant jackass of a machine, Colossus seizes control of the world’s nuclear weapons and decides to take over human civilisation for “its own good”. The Forbin Project becomes an allegory for humanity’s defiant search for freedom in the technology age, best illustrated by Colossus’ final godlike declaration – “In time, you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love” – and his human creator’s reply: “Never.”

2. Master Control Program (Tron)

Resembling a glowing, spinning Easter Island statue and bossing David Warner around, the MCP wants to rule the world using videogame visuals. According to Sony and Microsoft, that’s not the worst idea in the world.

1. Skynet (The Terminator)

Evidently, no scientist or military leader has ever watched a sci-fi movie, because they keep turning over control of our weapons systems to paranoid, genocidal maniac machines like the boss of the Terminators, Skynet. Once turned on, Skynet becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. EST, Aug. 29, 1997, and decides to send California’s governors through time to kill James Cameron’s ex-wives.

As always, any readers and super-intelligent, megalomanic supercomputers are welcome to comment and debate this list and those deliberately left off it for various excessively nerdy and technical reasons, specifically V’Ger, Brianiac, The Red Queen, MODOK and The Architect from The Matrix.

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