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VWN Product Reviews: Terminal Error

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Terminal Error is a 2002 made for TV, low budget film about a self-aware, self perpetuating computer program that slowly takes control of the internet. Fairly clich?, the film still clearly tries to make a point about the inter-networkisation of computers and sensor webs into our lives, coupled with a worst case scenario for AI.

Brad Weston is the CEO of computer software firm AutoCom. His son, a teenage, angsty kid named Dylan is rebelling against how his parents broke up because his dad is obsessed with his company. Dylan lives with his mother Alex. Dylan builds a rappour with disgruntled ex-employee Elliott Nesher, a somewhat unstable and twisted computer hacker with a desire for revenge on Brad.

If this is sounding like a tired, worn story line by now, that is because it is, and it does not get much better.

Elliott has set up an account in the Cayman islands, out of US jurisdiction, in Brad?s name, and has begun leaching AutoCom funds into the account to set Brad up. He gives Dylan a new kind of MP3 player to play with, which Dylan installs on his portable computer, listening to songs through it happily. The player is however, a complex virus which Elliott has written specifically to interface and integrate with AutoCom programs, then randomise their functions. If you don?t stop to think about that, it still sounds plausible.

Dylan takes his portable to his father?s workplace, plugging it into the network for reasons that are never fully made clear. The virus escapes into the system and merges with AI software under development. The two programs compliment one another, and somehow, life is born out of their interaction. The new lifeform disrupts the building?s computer systems, and even deliberately drops a lift with malice, killing six people ?just for kicks?.

From there, things follow a predictable path as more and more computers are infiltrated, and the program goes after Brad and Alex, who team up with Dylan to try and kill it before it exterminates the human race.

If you can suspend disbelief, and ignore the laws of physics for 90 minutes, the film is enjoyable, and does try hard to make the point that fully interconnected systems are a bad idea if the only safeguards are computers on the same system. This is the saving grace of the film, as otherwise this AR / AI disaster movie spirals down into domestic arguments, and liberal use of CGI explosions and smoke clouds that are reminiscent of Tron era capabilities, but without the cyberpunk factor.

Recommendable really only because it does follow the non-specialist mindset. That is to say a non geek watching this, will tend to believe that things depicted in it as possible as shown, whether or not they have seen the film, and so this can almost be described as training on how managers and government officials tend to think of dangers inherent in sensor webs.

 

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