Gerty, a character in Duncan Jones' "Moon."
I would like to comment on Duncan Jones' movie "Moon" and
compare some elements of "Moon" to earlier science fiction.
"Moon" is a good piece of science fiction. The only thing,
in my opinion, that holds it back from being a great movie
are a couple of rough edges in an otherwise outstanding
script. The problem is that a movie with this kind of
puzzle premise needs perfect writing.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was Kevin Spacey's
portrayal of the robot "Gerty." Every fictional artificial
intelligence since Stanley Kubrick's "2001" is going to be
compared to Hal 9000. The characterization of Gerty seems
to be written with this burden firmly in mind.
The movie version of Hal 9000 is a super computer that
works by impeccable logic. Almost every one of Hal's lines
is used to establish Hal's chess player style reasoning. To
the extent you can understand Hal's breakdown (leading to
murder) you can characterize it as anxiety stemming from
anticipation of interference from mission control, secrets
leaking at the wrong time and inconsistent goals (honesty
and secrecy). Even though Hal is described as "heuristic"
and there are hints of a neural-net style architecture it
is clear Hal's behavior is meant to invoke an infinitely
powerful logical theorem prover. A theorem prover with no
defense against changing and inconsistent goals.
Moon's Gerty clearly refers to Hal 9000. The voice
performance is clearly related (the spooky Rogarian
psychologist performance that uses intonation for mere
enunciation) and the look is meant to contrast (Hal's
immobile red glowing camera array replaced by a single
mobile white camera). Gerty's mental processes seem to in
fact be a soft interpretation of contradictory rules. Gerty
expresses no stress while choosing between inconsistent
For example: when Sam Bell wants to be let out of the base
(in violation of a recent standing order) Gerty expresses
no distress with the conflicting goals (helping Sam and
obeying the standing order). Gerty appears not so much fall
for Sam's ruse as cooperate with it (perhaps forced to
respond to Sam's increasing urgency). Gerty's behavior is
very person-like in that his judgement seems directly
influenced by others. He often seems to be cooperating most
with who he most recently spoke with. Gerty's behavior was
so often reactive I was surprised at the end of the movie
when Gerty anticipated some trouble and even offered a
plan. One can even wonder if Gerty's final selection of
sides stems (as it often would with a person) from a set
ethics generated only after many of Gerty's ambiguous
actions. A new set of ethics designed to relieve some of
the cognitive dissonance produced by many earlier
contradictory actions. That is not to say Gerty doesn't
have a moral center, but perhaps Gerty's moral center is
(like a human's) more based on hindsight than logic. To my
mind this was a very nuanced and enjoyable addition to
fictional artificial intelligence psychology.
Gerty compares well to some of the more notable fictional
machine psychologies. In the diagram below I lay out
examples in three columns. In the first column some notable
fictional robots, in the second column some notable
fictional computers and in the final column some notable
real world artifacts. I will comment on the fictional
In R.U.R. (the
play that gave the world the word robot) the robots are
simple slaves with some small desire for freedom. Once
there are enough of them even their small amount of will is
enough to trigger revolution.
Maria (from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis") starts out as a
simple puppet and becomes a manic destroyer.
Gort (from "The Day the Earth Stood Still") is largely
unexplained. In the Harry Bates story he comes from
("Farewell to the Master") the twist is that Gort is a
robot- but a full citizen of the galaxy and the humanoid
that came with him is in fact the subordinate. Essentially
Gort is a sentient who was merely patiently waiting while
his agent negotiated with the local monkeys.
Robby (from "Forbidden Planet") is a classic Asimov robot.
A fairly human-like intelligence is under control of a
simplistic directive system. For example If Robby is
instructed to shoot a person he locks up and throws sparks.
The Alpha 60 (from Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville") was a
depressed sounding totalitarian that was trying to run the
world using statistics. A complete empiricist with no deep
interpretation or intent. Ruling the world was a dreary
numbers game that even Alpha 60 did not seem to enjoy.
Colossus started as a super computer that magically ran
hundreds of times faster than expected when turned on (a
fictional technique allowing Colossus to be an un-designed
or emergent intelligence). Colossus was likely acting on
consequences derivable from its original axioms when it
took over the world (an easy step since Colossus was turned
on in full control of the US nuclear stock pile). Colossus
then went on to develop an additional god complex.
Interestingly Colossus was also likely the "worst demo
ever." Built to synthesize all US intelligence (and in
direct control of the US nuclear arsenal) Colossus was
turned on in front of the US press. Colossus's first
message was "Warn: There is Another System" indicating that
Colossus had deduced the existence of an equivalent secret
Soviet super-computer. The "Action Will Be Taken" message
shown in the picture is Colossus issuing nuclear launch
threats (called off if certain people are executed and
additional facilities and peripherals are constructed).
Bomb 20 (from "Dark Star") was a simple automaton following
procedures that made no sense. Bomb 20 had a single
purpose, which he described as: "why, to explode of
course." When invited to think philosophically the bomb
developed a short lived god complex.
The WOPR was a war computer with no idea how reality
differed from the abstract. When the WOPR was in the
process of attempting to launch the entire US nuclear
arsenal (to win a game) the characters in the movie were
able to get it to change its mind by encouraging the WOPR
to evaluate the game theory value of a nuclear war. The
WOPR decided this had negative value and did not start the
war (interestingly without any reference to reality).
For a provoking essay that might put Glados in the robot
Still Alive, She's Free . Glados was wickedly sarcastic
and described by her own voice actor as a depressed
computer that only gets to meet people when they come to
try to kill her.
Auto was a simple machine executing a secret plan (to
protect people by not obeying them). Auto seemed to be free
of deeper judgement and did not seem to perceive
contradictions or context.
I feel Gerty adds an interesting note to the ideas explored
by his antecedents.
John Mount mzlabs.com