Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MOMs I Have Known

Fictional artificial-intelligence entities named ‘Mom’
There have been a handful of artificially-intelligent ‘Mothers’ in sci-fi, but no ‘Mom’ (that I could find) prior to Patriots
• The closest match might arguably be Futurama (1999-?), which featured a power-mad, progeny-slapping, hard-bitten industrialist named Mom. She manufactured (among other things) robots. (The line ‘Don’t Mess with Mom’ came from that brilliant show.)
However, this Mom was not an artificial intelligence. (An artificial entity would almost certainly have been a better parent.)
It’s not only Futurama’s Mom who had some serious, undealt-with issues. In going through this list, very few of these ‘mothers’ sound like the sort anyone would send Mothers’ Day cards to. Perhaps this says something deep and profound about the kind of parental relationships that lead children to pursue careers writing science fiction, but let’s not go there.
• Jack ‘King’ Kirby’s wonderful ‘Fourth World’ comics (1970–1973) featured a ‘Mother Box’. Good old Jack. His ‘mother’ didn’t say much (mostly, she said ‘ping’), but she came through when you needed her. This was by far the most nurturing cyber-Mom of the bunch.
• ‘Mother’ was the shipboard computer on the space ship Dark Star, from the film Dark Star (1974).
• ‘Mother’ was the computer in the first Alien film (1979). Its full moniker was ‘MU-TH-R 182 model 2.1 terabyte AI Mainframe’. You can stuff 2.1 terabytes into a laptop today, but when Alien was made it sounded like more storage than anyone could dream of. On reflection, this ‘Mother’ was pretty useless in helping the humans in her care cope with the scary, gut-busting Alien. She mostly just sounded alarms and told the crew when things were about to explode. For a lot less money, they could have gotten as much help from an egg timer.
• ‘Mother’ was a self-evolved artificial intelligence in the novel series The History of the Galaxy (1990’s). Mother's goal was to create a race of machines like itself. (Doesn’t that sound a bit like a sci-fi remake of Mommie Dearest?)
• ‘Mother’ was the Axiom’s computer in the Pixar film WALL-E (2008). (Not to be confused with the auto-pilot, named Auto.) She was voiced, with self-conscious irony, by Alien’s Sigourney Weaver. This ‘mother’ was another non-starter for ‘Mother of the Year’: She either didn’t know or didn’t care that her kids had gotten way, way fat.
For some reason, ‘Mother Brain’ has been popular in the videogame world:
• ‘Mother Brain’ from Metroid (1986).
• ‘Mother Brain’ from Phantasy Star II (1989).
• ‘Mother Brain’ from Chrono Trigger (1995) was a supercomputer from the 2300 AD time period that controlled robotkind and exterminated humans. Thanks, Mom!
• Microsoft makes something called ‘Mom Agents’. No idea what these are, but they sound scary (almost as scary as Steve Ballmer) on many levels.
There are no sci-fi computers named ‘Dad’ that I know of, but there’s:
• ‘The City Fathers’: An emotionless computer bank educating and running the City of New York in James Blish's Cities in Flight series (1955-1962). Their highest ethic was survival of the city, making them probably the most-evolved artificial parent on this list.
• ‘Father’: The station computer in Alien Resurrection (1997).
Just to round out the ‘relatives’ list, there’s Orwell’s infamous Big Brother from 1984 (written, dyslexically enough, in 1948), which is sometimes thought of as some sort of omnipresent computer but wasn’t really.
Last but least-relevant: ‘Joshua’ was a subprogram that ran on the WOPR in WarGames (1983).
from The Patriots of Mars [Postscripts & Essays]

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