Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning: Beware of Artificial Intelligence?

You have seen Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) perform death-defying stunts in not just one but six Mission Impossible movies, as he tries to save the world from one potential catastrophe to the next. Ethan Hunt has dangled from airplanes, climbed the tallest building in the world — the Burj Khalifa — using just climbing gloves that almost ran out of power, and almost drowned trying to get a chip underwater, among other things.

Ethan Hunt is back in the seventh installment of the Mission Impossible series — Dead Reckoning Part 1. For the most part, the movie follows the same formula. Ethan Hunt performs yet again some death-defying stunts, trying to save the world once more. But this time the stakes have never been higher, and it is because of one thing: artificial intelligence (AI).

The AI, in this case, known as “the Entity,” is the world’s most powerful software, capable of digitally erasing or changing reality. In one scene, the entity erases one person in footage captured by security cameras at the airport in real-time. The entity is so powerful it can launch nuclear strikes. In the opening scene of the movie, “The Entity” tricks the submarine that is carrying its manual override system to blow itself up by creating a false enemy boat, which the submarine tries to blow up with a torpedo. “The Entity” then reroutes the torpedo back to whence it came.

But how exactly is Ethan Hunt going to fight software, you might ask? The movie’s plot revolves around securing a key, which can open “the Entity’s” manual system. Ethan Hunt wants to get the key so he can destroy the software. Being the good guy he is, he believes that there is no controlling something so powerful. For the sake of humanity, “the Entity” must be destroyed.

They say art imitates life, and for this movie, this rings true. From ChatGPT to self-driving cars, we live in a time when the type of AI that people once feared would be the end of life itself is already mainstream. This begs the question, should we be scared of AI, as this movie suggests?

We are not necessarily close to anything as powerful as “the Entity” — at least as far as I know. But despite that, fear of artificial intelligence is a recurring theme in Hollywood movies. Movies like “The Terminator,” “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” “Ex Machina,” “Transcendence,” and many more portray AI as something worth fearing. Even in movies like “Ironman,” where the good guys use AI, threats abound.

Because people are generally skeptical of new technology (or anything unknown for that matter), this is a rich area for Hollywood to exploit. Even at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, textile workers feared being replaced by machines. Similarly, in the 1980s people had the same fears about the personal computer. But with AI, that fear has another, stronger element to it, which is the idea that AI could become powerful enough to overtake or destroy life as we know it.

What history has shown, however, is that technological advancement is the reason we enjoy the high living standards we do today. From phones and computers to fridges, airplanes, whatever you name it, these are all conveniences readily available to the common man. Yet merely a hundred years ago, even the richest person in the United States could not have dreamed of such levels of abundance. Even AI systems have already been used positively in developing pharmaceutical drugs.

So, while nobody can say exactly where AI will take us, that should not necessarily be a cause for apprehension. On the contrary, it should merely be a sign that as a species, we have endless possibilities on how we can use this new technology to further improve the way we live.