TECH

Batman Tried To Warn Us About Robots 23 Years Ago

In which the Dark Night smacks an evil robot clone with a sword.

Kids these days just don't "get" the idea of an apocalyptic technological singularity the way they used to.

In 1992, an episode of "Batman: The Animated Series" aired a warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence. The plot concerns a confused robotic version of Batman who is obsessed with returning to his "real," human body. The 'bot is basically under the impression that it's the human Dark Knight. When it finally realizes it's not, it decides to replace all of humanity with cybernetic "duplicants," machine versions of people.

Classic evil robot, am I right?

The episode, deliciously titled "His Silicon Soul," is about as awesome as it sounds, and not just because the real Batman helplessly smacks robo-Bats with a sword near the climax:

Okay -- it's fun but a bit unoriginal. Paranoia surrounding artificial intelligence has existed at least since 1950, when the Turing test was born. And in practice, the episode is basically an excuse to rip off "Terminator 2," which had dominated box offices one year earlier. Several episodes of "Batman: The Animated Series" won Emmy awards, but this certainly isn't one of them.

That said, it's totally worth watching some 23 years after it first aired. Artificial intelligence isn't really the far-flung stuff of cheeseball science fiction anymore: Late last year, Stephen Hawking warned the BBC that AI "could spell the end of the human race." Some have posited that intelligent machines will overtake humanity by 2045, though it's a contested point.

Either way, the future is coming, and the episode contains some good discussion questions for the kiddos. Like, "Can computers have a soul?" And, "What's the best way to quell a robotic uprising?"

Also, like, Batman stabbing an evil robotic clone with a sword. Come on.

"His Silicon Soul" is available for free with an Amazon Prime Video subscription, or as a $1.99 download on similar services. You'll find it in Season 3.