Movies have done more than reproduce and document the technologies of their time. For the last 50 years, sci-fi films have imagined new ways of interacting with computers, and even pushed scientists to develop new technologies. Here are the top ten examples of computer interfaces that have popped up on our movies screens.
Sometimes the best way to interact with a computer is to avoid interacting with it at all. The main theme of the "Terminator" films is that the creation of a self-aware computer network, "Skynet", must be avoided at all costs. Here we see Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) trying to avoid interfacing with the T-800 cyborg which has been sent from the future to destroy her.
In the world of the film, just about everyone has been enhanced with cybernetic implants. Even the human brain can be interfaced with a computer brain, either to expand one's abilities or, as in this case, help to stave off an attacking computer hacker.
On the planet Altair 4, the alien Krell once commanded fantastically advanced technologies. Here, Professor Morbius (Walter Pigeon) demonstrates a Krell machine that, when connected to his scalp, renders his thoughts as a three-dimensional hologram of his daughter Altaira.
This romantic comedy stars Spencer Tracy as an "efficiency expert" and computer designer, with Katherine Hepburn as a research librarian who fears that the new EMERAC computer will steal her job. EMERAC is obviously based on the ENIAC, the first general-purpose computer. Note the tape drive and reams of dot matrix printout paper.
Doc Brown's stylish time machine is none other than an AMC Delorean, loaded to the bumpers with computer equipment, nuclear fuel cells, and of course the legendary Flux Capacitor.
Despite the existence of highly sophisticated technology such as droids that can talk and feel emotions, the Star Wars films also depict an oddly low level of sophistication regarding how people interface with that technology. Here technicians on the Death Star prepare to fire the station's planet-destroying Laser Cannon, using knobs and levers that look like they would be at home at an electrical power plant from 1977.
A mechanical probe inserted directly into a socket at the base of the brain enables the subjects mind to interact with a computer simulation as though it were a reality. For all of humanity, the world they know is actually just one that has been developed by the ruling machines in order to keep the human captives docile so they can be used as energy sources.
In a future where crimes are predicted and prevented before they can even be committed, pre-crime officers such as John Anderton (Tom Cruise) use a gestural interface to sort through the details of murder scenes in order to prevent them. A designated set of gloves gives him the ability to separate and sift through a 'video' on the screen by using simple movements and hand gestures. With a few swipes Cruises' character is able to navigate through an entire murder scene, picking out the necessary details and information.
2001, Speech (and lip) recognition: Like many automated phone systems in common use today, 2001's killer computer HAL 9000 responded to speech commands as well as input from a keyboard. Unfortunately, as the doomed astronauts would eventually discover, HAL 9000 was so good at speech recognition, it could read lips. Later, when the final surviving crew member demands that HAL open the pod bay doors, he learns that speech interfaces only work if the computer wants to behave itself and follow those instructions.
Unlike the Matrix, where humans get machine implants to interface with computers, the movie eXistenZ imagines a world where computers become more biological to better meld with their fleshy users. In the film, participants jack into a virtual reality game via an umbilical cord that connects the computer to the base of the user's spine. It may be more efficient than a USB jack, but it's a whole lot messier.