Robots and artificial intelligence in Spielberg's Robopocalypse

robo-coverSteven Spielberg's Robopocalypse adaptation appears to be well in motion. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) are in talks to take on lead roles in the movie and Variety reports that Ben Whishaw (Skyfall and Cloud Atlas) is also now on board.

Robopocalypse has been on my reading list for some time. The best selling novel by Daniel H. Wilson, who happens to hold a PhD in robotics (which probably came in handy considering the subject matter), is a tehno thriller set in the near future. Domestic robots are the norm and artificial intelligence is about to become a reality. A computer scientist accidentally creates an artificial intelligence called Archos (ruler or leader in Greek) and it's not a happy first contact experience. Once Archos achieves self-awareness, it immediately sets out to destroy human civilisation in order to preserve Earth's biodiversity. After infecting all penetrable networked electronic devices with a "precursor virus" and testing humanities' defenses with random incidents, Archos launches a systematic attack on the human race.

Daniel H. Wilson earned a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and is the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where's My Jetpack?, How to Build a Robot Army, The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame, Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown, and A Boy and His Bot.

Clearly this type of story has been done before. The Terminator films (apart from the extra time travel element) have almost exactly the same plot. What's interesting and potentially promising here (please highlight "potentially" in your minds) are Wilson's credentials as the holder of a PhD in robotics and the directorial clout of Spielberg to give this type of story the production values and touches that could raise it above the average (please, no tagged on happy ending Mr Spielberg!). Certainly the story should be scientifically accurate in regards to robotic development given the author's background (to the extent it can be of course).

This will be Spielberg's first science fiction film since War of the Worlds in 2005. He was apparently keen to adapt the novel at the earliest opportunity. Spielberg's film studio Dreamworks acquired the rights to Robopocalypse in 2009, two years prior to its publication. Presumably Spielberg had read the novel before it was published? There's material for a sequel too. Wilson is scheduled to release a follow up called Robogenesis in 2014.

Reviews of Robopocalypse frequently call it an impressive thriller and a "page-turner" and compare Wilson to Michael Crichton. Other reviews on Amazon and elsewhere have not been so enthusiastic, calling the writing "pulpish" and lacking in suspense, a perfect novel to end up in an airport lounge. If you've read the novel and can reveal more, add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Robopocalyse is set to shoot in Montreal, Canada. The screenplay adaptation is by Drew Goddard, the scribe responsible for Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods.

This new, metal apocalypse is scheduled to reach human cinemas April 2014. 

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