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Mission Impossible: Don’t Bother Me With Facts

The Tom Cruise action movie is built on faulty AI assumptions, but it's still entertaining

Ever watch a movie with a movie-talker? That’s someone who ruins a show by talking out loud over the audio. More than once, my wife has asked me, “What did he just say?” I usually have no idea because I didn’t understand either. But her question talks over the next few lines of the movie so the interval of me not hearing the audio is prolonged.

I occasionally watch a movie with a good friend Lou, a former police officer. Lou’s a movie-talker, especially when we watch police movies. He’ll interrupt the movie with nit-picky comments like:

“That’s not a real shotgun. A real shotgun would kick back, and the barrel would angle up after each shot. There was no recoil there at all! Fake!”


“Give me a break. A SWAT team would never approach a house all bunched up like that. They would spread out to reduce injuries if the bad guy decides to fire.”

He’s right, but I don’t care anymore about these details than I do when X-Men assumes evolutionary mutations are starting to give humans superpowers. Sure, the premise is flawed, but I’m in the process of being entertained. Don’t bother me with disruptive details about reality.

I have a movie-talking professor colleague named David at the University of Washington. David’s an ornithologist (bird specialist) who can do impressive bird calls. His wife says he’s interrupted a lot of movies with unwelcome comments. The movie Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is an example. David talked over the movie when, during an outdoor scene,  a bird was heard chirping in the background.  

“Harrumph,” he exclaimed. “That’s a South American club-winged Manakin. What a joke. Out of Africa indeed!”

Mission Impossible’s Flawed Depiction of AI

I’m a recovering movie-talker springing from my pet peeves about AI. Knowing how annoying movie-talking can be, I’m proud to report I forcefully bit my tongue while watching the AI depicted in the latest Mission Impossible movie.1 In the movie, an artificial intelligence, dubbed The Entity,  has become sentient and is taking over the world. Yes, the word “sentient” is used in the movie. In reality, once properly defined, AI will never be sentient. With clenched teeth, I silently let this technical blasphemy pass and continued watching the movie.

But there was more. The Entity gets more powerful when it writes more sophisticated computer code to hide itself in the cloud and distribute itself across the web. But AI will never write computer code beyond the intent or explanation of its programmers. If it did, the Lovelace test for creativity would be passed. No software yet has passed the Lovelace test. AI sentience, creativity, understanding and consciousness look to be beyond the reach of algorithmic AI.  As I watch, I again reach deep inside and press my mouth’s mute button. No movie-talking from me.

Movies like The Matrix, The Terminator and the latest installment of Mission Impossible are all built on faulty AI assumptions. But that’s okay I guess. After all, most movies are meant to take you on unrealistic adventures, even when they unintentionally prey on your pet irritations.   

  1. Peter Biles gives a review of the latest Mission Impossible movie for Mind Matters News.  

Mission Impossible: Don’t Bother Me With Facts