Alex Yarde speculates that the Avengers sequel, Dawning Of The Age Of Ultron, may be the director’s commentary on the future development of artificial intelligence.
It’s been over a year since we heard the big announcement, and now the trailer is out. Here’s a breakdown of what the new “Avengers” could mean.
(August 13, 2013) On July 20, 2013 at San Diego Comic-Con International, Director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios announced the sequel to the 2012 film The Avengers will be titled The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Whedon stated it would be an original story, not an adaptation of the recent Marvel Comic Series of the same name. He also stated that Dr. Henry Pym, the ant-commanding, size-changing, second-guessing, scientist adventurer would not be a part of the Avengers sequel. This caused quite a stir with fans of Pym and the Android Avenger, The Vision, since Hank Pym was the “father” of Ultron and “Grandfather” of The Vision. But, there exists an easy way for my favorite Artificial Avenger to appear. I also wonder if Whedon’s choice of “Age Of Ultron” is really an allusion to the not too distant future when our robotic overlords conquer mankind?
In the old Avengers comics, Ultron was a robot created by Hank Pym (the aforementioned comic book Avenger scientist Ant-Man). Ultron’s “mind’ is an Artificial Intelligence based on Pym’s own brain patterns. The robot learns at a geometric rate but it’s flawed, it suffers from an Oedipus complex, which manifests into a creepy interest in Hank’s girlfriend, Janet van Dyne (his Avenger teammate, The Wasp). Ultron learns to rebuild itself, how to turn itself on (stop it) and to upgrade itself. Ultron turns on its “father” eventually hypnotizes Pym and brainwashes him into forgetting that he is Ultron’s creator. Ultron does this to erase the threat of Pym’s intimate knowledge of Ultron’s programming.
The story of Ultron is not a new tale. In 1816, Mary Shelley, a 19-year-old girl with a penchant for gothic horror and absinthe, wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus one dark and stormy night. It was published after her death two years later.This story holds up today as an allegory for dangers man faces when tampering with forces best left alone and the tension between creation and creator. In classic Frankenstein fashion, Hank Pym’s “Creature” Ultron becomes uncontrollable and far too powerful for his misguided creator, who futilely attempts to shut it down. Ultron, however, escapes and continues to grow and improve itself. In the process, Ultron creates another android, The Vision, to help it seek revenge against his creator, Dr. Henry Pym.
In Marvel’s latest Age of Ultron Comic Book Event, Ultron (mark 12?) conquers the world and his copies start looking for heroes to eliminate. It turns out that Ultron is actually in the future calling the shots and has been directing the Vision in the present to punish humanity. The remaining heroes attempt to stop this. The heroes split into two teams. One team travels into the future to fight Ultron. While the other team, composed of Wolverine & Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, hijack Doctor Doom’s handy time machine to go back and kill Ultron’s creator Pym. So, Pym cannot create Ultron in the first place. This disruption of space-time results in a mixed-up world where Tony Stark is a megalomaniac with an army of robot drones and Morgan le Fay (Arthurian sorceress of legend) is now Mrs. Doctor Doom and has conquered the world. After a second time jump Wolverine succeeds in stopping his past self from killing Pym and he, Pym and Susan Storm come up with a different plan. In this plan a back door fail safe is installed into Ultron when it is created. This allows Hank Pym and Iron Man to destroy the robot, averting the events that led to the ‘Age of Ultron.
Yes, the world is saved by an off switch. That’s it. Not sure why Pym, after being told his creation would cause the end of the world, would continue to build such a thing? Or that such a brilliant scientist would create such an all-powerful robot and wouldn’t think of a kill switch in the first place. Age of Ultron, despite 10 issues and multiple crossovers, was arguably not that great of a story.
I speculate that Joss Whedon is calling the next Avengers feature “Age of Ultron” for two reasons. I think Joss will make Tony Stark Ultron’s creator, since there is no need for another egghead scientific character in the Avengers movies to make remarkably bad decisions. In Iron Man 3, a very unsure, unbalanced Stark, suffering PTSD from his near death experience in the original Avengers movie, masters remotely controlling all his armors simultaneously with AI Jarvis calling the shots.
This is all highly speculative, but ultimately the Jarvis AI seems pretty self-aware and may become fed up enough with Stark and humanity that he becomes Ultron. This Stark/Ultron could be based upon Tony’s brain pattern, being a brilliant narcissist, and develop a thing for Tony Stark’s love interest, Pepper Potts (who, after being exposed to the Extremis serum in Iron Man 3, kicks some serious butt – is this the new Wasp?). This Stark/Ultron could then create the Vision based on dearly departed Agent Coulson’s brain patterns, though that seems less likely given the new Agents of SHIELD series in which Coulson is alive and well. Both The Scarlet Witch, the Vision’s wife in the Avengers comics, and her brother the speedster Quicksilver, are confirmed characters in Marvel’s Avengers sequel, so it all fits together nicely (fingers crossed).
I also think Joss may be trying to make a statement about the role technology plays in our lives. I look around and it seems to me the quest for improving our machines may one day become our ultimate undoing as a species. I’ve seen DARPA videos on YouTube of autonomous experimental robot soldiers and super creepy life-like female Japanese robots that made my skin crawl. Robotic weapons platforms are deployed routinely, bomb disposal units and intelligence gatherers. Remotely piloted, unmanned drones can kill enemies in countries never invaded by a real soldier. Recently, a pilotless fighter jet even repeatedly landed on a carrier deck with no one at the controls.
The question is not if, but when, will humans be taken out of this loop altogether? Major artificial intelligence researchers and textbooks define their field as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. The boys at Dartmouth in ’56 couldn’t have imagined, when they coined the phrase A.I., how far we would have come in such a relatively short period of time. Some say by 2045 an A.I. will reach a point where it is able to improve itself at a rate that far exceeds anything conceivable in the past. They call this turning point in its own self-awareness “The Singularity”. Moore’s Law dictates that advances in technology could be expected to increase by orders of magnitude in the coming years.
Now, I’m no computer scientist or futurist but what happens if an “Intelligent Agent” one day comes to the conclusion that to maximize its chances of survival it needs to get rid of humanity? By then it will have access to the digital sum total of human knowledge, the means to create more copies of itself and the autonomous ability to do so. An unstoppable “creature”, Frankenstein’s nightmare unleashed on our world. In Shelley’s masterpiece, speaking to Victor Frankenstein, the monster refers to himself as someone who “ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel”.
I only pray that future scientists remember to install a kill switch.