The Wondrous Super Powers of Computers
Article by George Norman
On 20 Jan 2009
We all own computers, we run various operating systems on them, and we use all sorts of software applications on a day-to-day basis; so it goes without saying that we are pretty much aware of a what a computer is capable of doing, and what its limitations are. But every once in a while Hollywood puts out a movie (which turns out to be a blockbuster) that literally has us saying: “Has the script writer or the director ever used a computer before?”

In the glitzy, CGI enhanced world of Hollywood everything is possible, and this goes double for computers and computer movies. In the Hollywood vision of the computer, the device is a magical box capable of doing pretty much everything you ever dreamed of. The reason why people fall for this kind of thing is either because they are willing to go with the flow and turn a blind eye, or more likely because to this day people are not aware of the obvious limitations of technology.


Computers will not blow anything up – as seen in the 2007 action thriller “Live Free or Die Hard” featuring Bruce Willis and Justin Long. In the movie, the team lead by Timothy Olyphant can hack into every database out there no matter how well kept – which is within the realm of possibility; but that fine line between reality and fiction is crossed when they hack into a power plant and get it to explode.

This reminds me of a joke:
Customer: My computer went down.
Tech support: Did you back-up?
Customer: Why? Stepping away from the computer: Is it going to blow?

Computers will not give you huge amounts of money – as seen in the 2001 action thriller “Swordfish” starring John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. The premise of the movie is that you can hack into the systems of the US Government, steal a whopping $9.5 billion, and get away with it. It is true that phishing attempts and scams are common online, and some banks even have their databases hacked from time to time, but someone will figure out that you stole $9.5 billion. You cannot expect to pull this off and go have a cold one by the sea shore in Mexico – just ask Kevin Mitnick.

Computers are not self-aware and will not take over the world – as seen in WarGames (1983), the Terminator series, The Matrix series, and a lot other. While I will admit that the computers in Terminator and Matrix come from the future, and by that time it may be possible to develop some form of self-aware AI, the plot in WarGames, starring a very young Matthew Broderick, is ludicrous. The IMSAI 8080 computer that was used in the movie is so underpowered that it would have serious problems running more complex applications, let alone develop a conscience. Technology today has come a long way, but computers have yet to become self-aware and realize that they are oppressed by the humankind.

Computer usage is not universal – as seen in the 1996 action thriller “Independence Day” starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. By the end of the movie, Will Smith flies into the aliens’ mother ship where Jeff Goldblum uploads a virus into the aliens’ computers, thus disabling the ship’s force field and allowing the human race to attain victory over the invading aliens. I will only say this: Windows Vista. Software that used to work on XP with no problems whatsoever was incapacitated in Vista. Why would human technology be compatible with alien developed technology that is infinitely more advanced?

Tags: Computers, Hollywood
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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