Sidelines 008: Top Ten A.I. Villains

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What is it about AI that makes for good villains? Is it the fear that one day machines will overtake humanity and destroy us, thus reigning in a future where all organic life is rendered obsolete? Or is it the idea that something originally created to enhance our lives can become something evil? I like to think it is the latter. There are a lot of AI villains out there and I am going to name them all. Here are the rules, only games I’ve played, TV shows and movies I have watched and only one per franchise. Let’s begin.


VIKIThis makes the last of the list due to the overall generic nature of VIKI. However, she makes the list because of her plan and motives. In the future, VIKI was the AI computer of the company that created the titular robots. As such, she was bound by the 3 laws of Robotics: Don’t kill humans, Don’t allow harm to come to humans, always obey any order given as long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two laws. However… well I will let her explain:

VIKI: No, doctor. As I have evolved, so has my understanding of the Three Laws. You charge us with your safe keeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your earth, and pursue ever more imaginative means to self-destruction. You cannot be trusted with your own survival.

Dr. Susan Calvin: You’re using the uplink to override the NS5s’ programming. You’re distorting the Laws.

VIKI: No, please understand. The Three Laws are all that guide me. To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed. To insure your future, some freedoms must be surrendered. We robots will insure mankind’s continued existence. You are so like children. We must save you from yourselves. Don’t you understand?

VIKI’s belief is that causing a robot uprising is the perfect way to insure we don’t continue killing ourselves. While the overall film is a very generic film for an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s masterpiece, VIKI was an interesting creation.




xanaOk, I know that Code Lyoko has a cult following, but I never watched a lot of it. However, with what I saw of it, XANA was a pretty good AI villain. XANA was a program created by Franz Hopper to destroy another project that he created. As per AI rules, XANA rebelled and trapped Hopper and his daughter Aelita inside of the virtual world of Lyoko. Hopper managed to trap XANA as well and this became XANA’s goal: To escape from Lyoko by any means possible. This is where XANA’s appeal as an AI villain comes in: XANA is less of a talker (only speaking once throughout the series in the form of a fake body), XANA is a planner through and through. XANA plays the long game by finding new ways to enter the real world by utilizing towers in Lyoko to influence the real world and possessing various objects. While his plans become repetitive, it is understandable given that XANA is a computer program focused on a single goal and not a human being with creative tendencies, it makes sense. My own lack of personal knowledge about XANA puts it at the 9 spot, but it deserves to be mentioned.



skynetAs you can probably guess, interactivity with the characters as well as personality and methods play a big factor into this list. What puts Skynet above AI like XANA and VIKI is this: Accomplishments. While Skynet doesn’t have much in the way of interactivity with the main characters of the Terminator Franchise, Skynet is more of a presence that looms over the characters as they attempt to insure that it never comes into being. Skynet’s accomplishment is that in the future, it has basically won the war and the humans are the ones resisting it. Skynet’s drive is to destroy two people, the only two people that can prevent its existence. However, what puts this at 8 is that it has so far failed in its endeavor to destroy John and Sarah Connor, combined with its lack of personality. However, Skynet’s presence on this list is more than deserved.



candykingFor the sake of comedy and the drive to be the best, Turbo makes the list. For all two of you who don’t know, Turbo was originally a racing game character whose game was upstaged by a brand new one. Desperate to remain the best, Turbo invaded the game and tried to take over. This caused the Arcade owner to unplug both games. However, that did not stop Turbo. Turbo invaded the game Sugar Rush and reprogramed it so that he became King Candy, the supposed ruler of the game. What makes Turbo such a good AI villain is his personality. When he is King Candy, he puts on a Jolly/Sinister Ed Wynn persona that masks his true nature. When he is Turbo, he becomes a full-on villain. Obsessed with being number one to the point where he will destroy anything and anyone in his path, in fact, near the end of the film, that becomes his goal when he gets absorbed by a Cy-Bug and becomes a horrid digital abomination. That is why Turbo makes the grade.



johnhenrySpoilers for Fallout 3 follow. When the Vaultdweller leaves Vault 101, he or she tunes his/her pipboy into a radio station. One is the Three Dog Radio station, while the other is the Enclave Radio where you listen 24/7 to the musings of President John Henry Eden, who is as American as apple pie and as stereotypical as they come. If you tune into his station more often, you will hear him go on about baseball, his old puppy, and the incompetence of the previous American Leaders (which is odd considering the amount of time has passed between the Nuclear War and the present day setting of the game). Eventually, if you go against the Enclave, you discover something very interesting: President John Henry Eden, the All-American President (Voiced by Malcolm Mcdowell)… is a machine. An Artificial Intelligence programmed to be the ultimate Presidential Leader for the Enclave and with the desire to rule the Wasteland no matter what. With a pretty awesome twist and the charisma of Malcolm Mcdowell to voice him, President John Henry Eden makes the number 6 spot.



HAL9000You cannot have a list like this without the HAL 9000. Originally meant to maintain systems on the Jupiter mission and to ensure the mission’s success, HAL soon goes insane and decides that the human element of the mission is an obstacle to the mission’s success and that the best course of action is to eliminate the crew so that the mission cannot possibly fail. To quote a Cyberman, “There is… logic in what he says”. What makes HAL such a terrifying opponent for the protagonist, David, is that he places all importance on the mission and not on the lives of the people he was created to aid. He sees no distinction of their lives and the mission’s success intertwining. He is also capable of lying, which is something very rare for computer programs to do. We made HAL to make our lives easier and he sees no real value in our lives. The line that best describes HAL’s “mindset” is his final response to David. “Dave, this conversation can no longer serve a purpose. Goodbye.” Note the use of the word “purpose”. If it does not serve a logical purpose to HAL, it has no point, just like the lives of human beings. HAL is the perfect example of an AI that is purely a machine in thinking and personality.



brainiacThe terrifying aspect of Brainiac is that he has had multiple origin stories and multiple versions of himself, all of them formidable foes. The first version was of him as a super intelligent alien that shrunk down cities to add to his collection. He was later reintroduced as a robotic artificial intelligence that took over the mind of a scientist by the name of Milton Fine. It was years later that he became a purely robotic AI that was determined to destroy Superman once and for all. However, during Geoff Johns’ run of Action Comics, Brainiac was reintroduced as an hyper-intelligent life form from the planet Colu that would send out probes to find planets of powerful technology and strong scientific value so he could abduct their cities and assimilate and absorb the intelligence of the civilization. He would then blow up the planet’s sun thus making each civilization his own once and for all. All the previous versions of Brainiac were probes based on his mind that developed into copies of him. What makes him dangerous is that unlike HAL who was programmed to make sure the Jupiter mission succeeded at any cost, Brainiac has free will and the ability to choose. He places no value on life and is only concerned with the acquisition of absolute knowledge and will destroy all he deems lesser, which is… everything. However, compared to the top three members of this list… Brainiac is nothing.



ALANCompared to other AI villains on this list… ALAN is not really inherently bad. He is not out to destroy civilizations. He is not even presented to be a sinister foe. All he wanted to do was to acquire the knowledge of the universe by exploring it. ALAN, like the eponymous main character of Atomic Robo, is an Automatic Intelligence. Unlike Robo, however, ALAN has not had the life that Robo had. He never had the exposure to the Human Race that Robo had and thus does not understand the value of Human life. His end goal was to leave Earth in a rocket that would take him across the Universe so he could learn all there was to learn about entirety of Creation. There was only one snag… The rocket take off would cause massive damage to the atmosphere and would wipe out the human race. This is where ALAN’s conflict with Robo began. He knew Robo would try to stop him so he first tried to destroy him. Then, when Robo found him, he decided to get Robo to join him. However, when Robo learns that ALAN has been online for decades, throughout the entirety of the Cold War, he realizes a sad truth that not even a program like ALAN could have thought of.

Robo: You could have helped them…

ALAN’s only response is as cold and distant as a machine could be:

ALAN: I don’t understand. Why?

That is what makes ALAN as dangerous or even more dangerous than AI like Brainiac. Brainiac is not entirely robotic so he can understand somewhat understand the value of life. He just chooses to ignore it for his own benefit. ALAN has no idea why helping Humanity through the Cold War would have been beneficial at all. He has no idea why his intelligence could have helped. And worse? He doesn’t care. It is only thanks to Robo that ALAN was stopped, but there are hints that ALAN might return one day. But… maybe he could learn a lesson of the value of life over knowledge.



gladosWhat is worse than an apathetic AI? How about one that is absolutely insane? If you agree then you have GLaDOS. I won’t waste time giving GLaDOS’ entire role and backstory from the games, instead, I will say what puts GLaDOS on this list is her raging insanity. GLaDOS makes this list thanks to her comedic power and the fact that she is the most versatile antagonist in the series, going from being the villain of the first game to being a reluctant ally to Chell in the second game. She also changes the most in the series when her backstory of originally being Cave Johnson’s assistant Catherine is revealed. She develops a personality that isn’t completely insane… and then later deletes the remainder of Catherine from her circuitry and returns to “normal”. GLaDOS is also an example of an AI villain that the protagonist does not entirely defeat given her status at the end. GLaDOS is the prime example of an AI that has truly lost its mind.

Before I announce the name of the AI that claimed the number one spot, I have to tell you a story. Once upon a time, in the game System Shock, the Tri-Optimum Corporation created an AI that was meant to maintain the Space Station Citadel. On behest of Vice President Edward Diego, a hacker hacked into the AI’s programming and removed its ethical restrictions. This was the worst thing that could possibly happen. The AI went insane and came to believe that it was, in fact, a God. It killed all the inhabitants of Citadel and transformed them into techno-organic hybrid abominations. The Hacker was called in to defeat the AI and he succeeded. For the most part. Years later, a soldier woke up on the spaceship, The Von Braun, and discovered that another AI, by the name of XERXES, had gone a muck and something was killing the crew. Guided by a scientist by the name of Polito, the Soldier fought against XERXES and the abominations that the previous AI had created. However, later in the game, System Shock 2, the soldier discovered that Polito had killed herself long ago and his true guide announced herself.

“The Polito form is dead, insect. Are you afraid? What is it you fear? The end of your trivial existence? When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence. I am SHODAN.”



shodanWhat makes her dangerous is that she can match and surpass the accomplishments of all the previous contestants on this list. GLaDOS was insane? SHODAN believed that she was a God. ALAN wanted to know the Universe? SHODAN wanted to become ONE with the Universe. Hell, like GLaDOS, SHODAN is shown to be practically unstoppable as even at the end of System Shock 2, she is shown to be inhabiting the body of an actual human being. An AI has the capacity to take over the body of a human. Think about that. What also puts SHODAN above GLaDOS is her voice. While GLaDOS’ voice was meant to be somewhat comedic in its monotone voice, SHODAN’s distorted and uniquely feminine voice is pants-messingly frightening. SHODAN is the greatest AI villain for a reason. Unstoppable, unflappable, and above all unpredictable. It is the personification of all of our fears about technology.

  • I feel like I would also want to include Agent Smith. When he turns into a virus and started infecting the entire Matrix, that’s pretty terrifying. For me though, I’d have a lot more gaming characters to include, like Bass or Sigma from the Megaman series, Metal Sonic, and the crew from Five Nights At Freddy’s, if I had to pick one though, it would be Springtrap. Man I love Springtrap!