Know Your Tech: CMS

Posted June 27, 2018 by

Concept Art: Man trying to manage documents Marketing is increasingly critical to a business’ success, especially when it comes to the use of content as an impressions generator. This makes it all the more important for your content to be well organized and managed. Here, we’ll go over a few options you have as far as content management systems are concerned, and how they make maintaining your content strategy that much simpler.

What is a Content Management System?

A content management system, or CMS, is an application or program intended to assist you in properly producing, editing, and storing content. A CMS serves as a centralized access point for those with authorization to manage your content strategy, helping you to leverage it more effectively. Each CMS falls into one of two types:

  • Web content management
  • Enterprise content management

Depending on your business’ needs and circumstances, one of these choices will be the superior option for you to leverage.

Web-Based Content Management System (WCMS)

Drupal, Joomla, WordPress
If you’re in business today, chances are pretty good that you have a website, and that you hired a website creator to build it. The WCMS is how all of your content on the website is put together and organized, and because your website is the cornerstone of your online marketing, you need to be sure that this content is equipped with the management features and abilities that will boost its success. The other benefit to leveraging a WCMS is that they are largely user-friendly, which means that learning to manage a website is made into a much simpler process.

Because marketing needs can shift in days, or even hours, organizations like yours may need to make rapid changes to their site. A WCMS allows those changes to be made quickly and easily, keeping your content up-to-date and relevant, while incorporating engagement tools like social media, forms, and discussion boards.

Enterprise Content Management System

HP Distributed Workflow, IBM ECM, Oracle WebCenter Content
While there are a few small differences, the basic function of an enterprise content management system is effectively the same as a web-based one. Not only does it provide an organizational information repository for all of the members of the organization to access, it also provides the same content management capabilities. They are often leveraged by businesses in order to:

  • Manage access to organizational content, improving security
  • Improve collaboration through improved file access and searchability
  • Centralize an organization’s content
  • Build a digital content storage platform through the incorporation of a document management system
  • Improve workflow efficiency by creating and storing templates

Enterprise content management provides both access and control over a business’ information, a must in the competitive market of today, helping to boost their success and profitability.

If you have any questions about the different content management systems and software solutions that may benefit your business, you can always lean on the experts at Excalibur Technology. Call us at (877) NET – KING for more information.


Has the Internet of Things Outpaced Network Security?

Posted June 26, 2018 by

Concept Art: Infected laptop connected to a networkThe Internet of Things is constantly changing and evolving, but this also means that it might be growing a bit too fast for its own good. So many devices these days have connectivity that it’s difficult to keep your business secure from them. We’ll discuss whether or not the Internet of Things is outpacing the efforts of security organizations and businesses, as well as what you can do to make sure that your business doesn’t fall victim to it.

It’s not unheard of for Internet of Things devices to cause security concerns–particularly in the wake of devastating Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks orchestrated through the use of countless hacked devices. We can use the relatively recent DDoS attack on Dyn, a well-known domain name provider, as a prime example of this. The devices used to initiate this attack were infected with a malware variant called “Mirai,” and it created a massive botnet that was used to bring down the websites of some of the biggest technology companies out there–specifically, those who relied on Dyn’s services in order to be active.

The basic idea behind the fear (and now reality) of a botnet is that millions of devices will create an infected network that can bring about a massive attack. This attack can target something with a ridiculous amount of traffic that can bring down naught but the mightiest networks. The Mirai botnet itself targeted devices by using their default passwords. Many users don’t change the default passwords, making this a viable tactic.

When you think about it, this development isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it might seem. When so many devices are being used in a connected fashion, it’s only natural that some either won’t be properly secured, or will be infected with malware that can do the bidding of external threats. There is a direct correlation between the increase in connected devices and the number of potential threats out there. The most unnerving part of the Internet of Things and security shortcomings is the fact that so many devices are connected–many of which were never connected before, including automobiles, home appliances, and so much more. How can you protect your business with such a crushing force waiting to be launched at any moment?

It all starts by implementing basic security best practices. If you have any mobile or connected devices in your office, it’s best that you change the password (definitely don’t leave it at the default password). Furthermore, any devices on your network should be comprehensively protected by a mobile device management solution that’s designed to protect any devices that have access to company data.

To learn more, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.


Did You Know Your Router Can be Infected?

Posted June 25, 2018 by

Router with an Ethernet cable plugged inA new type of malware is targeting routers in what is considered a large enough threat that even the FBI is addressing it. Even worse, a router isn’t necessarily a device that you think would be vulnerable to attack from a hacker. What can you do to keep your business’ Internet access points secure from hacking attacks? Let’s dig in to the details about what the VPNFilter malware does and how you can address it.

Explaining VPNFilter

The malware in question, VPNFilter, hides in routers for both individual users and small businesses with the intention of persisting even if the device has been rebooted. VPNFilter targets devices that are Ukraine-based most of the time, but others have been known to fall victim to this as well. It’s thought that the VPNFilter malware originated from a group called Sofacy. The malware itself takes three steps to become an issue for your organization.

The first is that the malware sets itself up so that it will persist even if the device is rebooted or turned off. The second stage of the attack consists of the malware installing permissions for itself to change router settings, manage files, and execute commands. This allows the router to essentially brick itself, leading to considerable connectivity problems. The final stage of this malware lets the hackers look at the data packets passing to and from the device, as well as the ability to issue commands and communicate through the Tor web browser.

The reason why the FBI recommends resetting your router is because the second and third steps are wiped when you do so, but the first stage remains regardless.

Is Your Router Affected?

While not all routers are affected, there is still a sizeable list of confirmed impacted devices. Some of the impacted brands include:

  • Asus
  • D-Link
  • Huawei
  • Linksys
  • MikroTik
  • Netgear
  • TP-Link
  • Ubiquiti
  • Upvel
  • ZTE

For a comprehensive list of affected devices, you can see specifics for each brand at Symantec’s website: https://www.symantec.com/blogs/threat-intelligence/vpnfilter-iot-malware

How to Fix It

The best way to resolve these issues with VPNFilter is to perform a factory reset for your router, which completely deletes anything installed during the first stage of the threat. If the router’s manufacturer has administered a patch for the vulnerability, you can also install it following a factory reset so that you’ll never have to deal with this vulnerability again.

For more updates and tips on some of the latest threats, keep an eye on Excalibur Technology’s blog.


We Bring Value with Our Managed IT Services

Posted June 23, 2018 by

Computer mouse on top of a $100 billTechnology is great for improving certain parts of your business, but only if it is implemented correctly. The way you manage your technology will determine whether you are investing wisely or just throwing away money on solutions that simply don’t work. How can you make sure that your business isn’t held back by the way it manages its technology? It all starts by taking a look at what you currently do versus what successful companies are doing.

Almost all small businesses use technology, but they don’t necessarily have an in-house department dedicated to overseeing how it is used or maintained. If you don’t have enough operational capital to employ dedicated staff whose job is to effectively manage your business’ IT solutions, chances are that this responsibility falls to your other employees. Even if they are the ones doing the maintenance, it’s likely that they can’t provide the specialized services required for each and every piece of hardware and software that your organization uses on a daily basis; not to mention the background in the organization and management of business technology. In any case, you’re risking your organization’s future with every software patch not being implemented on time, or security update not being applied as needed.

What about in a worst-case scenario? In a situation like this, where your business’s data could be compromised by external factors, would you have an answer for the inevitable tough questions? Natural disasters and hacking attacks are two cases where you could experience crippling data loss or corruption. If a scenario like this were to play out, you would want to make sure that your organization has a way to back up and restore data. This way, you can maintain a reliable and recoverable copy of your organization’s data off-site just in case. After all, future events like this are, quite frankly, impossible to predict. If you’re not using an automatic system, you never know how much data you could lose in the event of such an attack.

Ultimately, the most important part of preventive IT maintenance and management is that it saves your business a considerable amount of capital. By making sure that all of your services are operating at full capacity, you create more opportunities for your employees to be productive. Furthermore, by making sure that all of your patches and updates are applied properly, you gain the peace of mind that entities that threaten your organization’s profitability are being repelled. Outsourcing all of these responsibilities to a managed service provider like Excalibur Technology lifts the weight of these important responsibilities from your organization’s shoulders, and it helps to minimize expenses associated with maintenance and repair of critical IT components.

To get started with managed services from Excalibur Technology, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.


How to Be Selective when Picking a Backup Solution

Posted June 22, 2018 by

Concept Art: Data backupYou literally never know when your data may be lost. It may be frightening to consider, but there are so many factors that could lead to you losing your data, ranging from an act of nature to user error. To counter this, you need to make sure your backup solution meets certain requirements. Today, we’ll review those requirements.

What Does Your Company Need from Its Backup?

Your backup, in many ways, should be your company’s saving grace. Whatever the cause of your data loss may be, the loss itself creates a significant issue in and of itself. Buildings can be repaired, equipment can be replaced, but once data is gone, it is practically impossible to retrieve it without some kind of backup in place.

Therefore, it is important for your backup to meet certain benchmarks:

  • How quickly can data be backed up?
  • How quickly can data be restored?
  • How badly could your operations be interrupted in the interim?
  • How protected is my backup against its own disasters, especially the same ones that could influence the data I have stored in-house?

What Kind of Data Backup Best Fits My Needs?

There are a few kinds of backup solutions available, and while it may not be a bad idea to maintain multiple forms of backup in a hybrid approach, we always recommend that your backup strategy revolve around the use of a cloud backup solution. The reasons for this are simple: a cloud solution can be automated, eliminating the risk of user error leading to a backup not being refreshed, and your data is kept in multiple locations, adding the protection of redundancy.

How Can I Get Started with a Backup Solution?

In order to really begin with a backup solution that fits the requirements we’ve reviewed, it is best to go through a reputable vendor. Excalibur Technology can help with that – not only do we have good working relationships with a variety of reputable vendors, we’ll act as your representative with them, ensuring that you get what you need for your business’ benefit.

For more information about backups and how to go about implementing one, give us a call at (877) NET – KING.


Tip of the Week: Your Guide to Using Multiple Displays

Posted June 20, 2018 by

Concept Art: Person looking at multiple displaysDepending on the task you’re trying to work on, it can sometimes seem like there just isn’t enough space on your computer monitor. One of the best solutions is to add another monitor. However, this sometimes requires more than just plugging another display into your system. For this week’s tip, we’ll review the steps to connecting multiple displays to your workstation.

Preparation

Connecting multiple monitors is a process, so before you begin, you should make sure you have all your ducks in a row. First, you need to make sure that your computer is capable of supporting multiple monitors in the first place.

To do so, you need to make sure you have sufficient graphics ports to connect these multiple monitors to. Look at the back of your computer and check for graphics ports, or ones labeled DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, or VGA. Depending on what you see, your computer may or may not have a discrete graphics card, which dictates whether or not you can most likely use more than two monitors. If you only have a motherboard, two displays are generally your cap, while three or more – in addition to the first two – suggest that you have the separate graphics card.

However, even this doesn’t always mean that you can use more than two displays. Checking for the make and model of your graphics card and running it through a quick Google search with the amount of monitors you’d want to use should tell you if your card can support them.

If not, there is always the possibility of adding an additional graphics card, as long as you have the real estate and a sufficient power supply in your computer to support it. If you do, you will want to be sure that you use the same brand of card as your system currently uses. This will improve your performance and cause much less trouble for you in the long run. In addition to this, you will also need to be sure that you have the appropriate connector cables, and that they will connect properly between your tower and your display.

From there, all you have to do is obtain the additional monitors you want to use, which will be dictated by your budget, your needs and intended use, and your available real estate.

Setup and Configuration

Unfortunately, you still aren’t quite ready to dive back in – you need to tell your computer itself to play nice with all these monitors, too. Fortunately, the Windows operating system makes this fairly simple.

Press Windows + P to pull up a simple menu of your display modes. These modes are as follows:

  • PC screen only – Your primary monitor will be the only one utilized.
  • Duplicate – All monitors will show the same desktop.
  • Extend – The monitors work collaboratively to provide a single, expanded desktop.
  • Second screen only –Your secondary monitor will be the only one utilized.

Generally speaking, you will most likely want to utilize the ‘Extend’ setting.

Once you have done all this, you will want to right-click anywhere on your desktop to pull up your Display settings. Using the diagram provided, mimic the way your screens are set up, each numbered box representing one of them. Clicking Identify will have the screens identify themselves by number. You can also adjust whether your taskbar is displayed on all screens and change up your desktop customization for each.

It doesn’t take much to help boost your productivity at work, which means even the smallest changes can make a big difference. How many monitors do you prefer to use? Tell us in the comments!

 


Does Your Server Room Need Air Conditioning?

Posted June 18, 2018 by

Concept Art: Air Conditioning You don’t need us to tell you that servers, workstations, and many other network components create a lot of heat from constant use. Servers in particular produce an incredible amount of heat, so much that they need to be kept in a climate-controlled room to ensure they don’t overheat and cause hardware failure. How can you make sure that your business’ servers are in an adequate environment to preserve your organization’s future?

It all starts by examining the current environment in which you store your hardware. Are you storing your servers in a closet (or other small room) with only fans to cool them? Is there poor air circulation? What about humidity? All of these variables need to be addressed before too much damage is done to your server.

Prolonged exposure to heat can cause permanent damage to your server units, decreasing their value over time and lowering the quality of service you get from them. However, not just any air conditioning system will do to protect this critical hardware. The best kind of air conditioning for a server room includes a comprehensive approach to climate control. This includes sensors that can measure room humidity and temperature. Ideally, you want sensors that can be monitored remotely so that you can always keep an eye on the environment. This allows you to properly manage the environment your organization’s critical hardware is in.

While you want to monitor humidity and make sure that it doesn’t exceed a certain threshold, you should also be wary of the room becoming too dry. Storing active electronics in a dry room is certainly not an ideal situation, as this can create unwanted static electricity that can cause damage to devices.

Air flow is also extremely important, as you want to make sure that your servers are actually being hit by the cool air so that they can be adequately cooled down. For example, you don’t want to have your air conditioning on at its highest setting in your server room because it might be wasteful in the long run, whereas air blowing directly on your server cabinets can accomplish largely the same goal with less investment into your energy costs. To this end, air conditioning units can be installed in the floor or ceiling, directly above or below the cabinets, so as to get the most out of your investment.

Of course, no amount of air conditioning can prepare you for the worst-case scenario–the inevitable failure of your business’ server units and loss of its data. In cases like this, you should always be prepared for the worst. A comprehensive data backup system needs to be implemented in order to guarantee that the worst doesn’t wipe your organization off the map entirely. To this end, Excalibur Technology can help. We’ll identify how you can optimize your server infrastructure and data backup system so that an unexpected disaster doesn’t prematurely end your business.

To learn more, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.


How Much Time Do You Spend on These Websites?

Posted June 15, 2018 by

Woman browsing the internetThe Internet is massive. It’s simultaneously a never-ending shopping mall, the biggest library that you’ve ever seen, and movie theater. According to a study conducted by MIT, the average American now spends a full day of their week (24 hours) online…and that’s just an average. We all know people who are locked into the Internet from the moment they wake up and stay locked in until they go to sleep. Surprisingly, people only spend their time on a handful of the over 644 million websites that populate the Internet. Today we will take a look at the four most visited sites on the Internet and examine why users spend so much time visiting them.

 

Google.com

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to find out that Google was the most visited site on the Internet. As the most popular (and best) search engine on the web, it is the most useful site. After all, when you search for something on the Internet (whether you use Google.com or not), it’s referred to as “googling”. This just speaks to its transcendence in the consciousness of Internet users everywhere.

The Google homepage is extraordinarily simple with no advertisements and options to access Google-based products and services and provides a legendary ease of use. Simply type (or speak) your query in the Google bar and wham, you have results. In 2017, nearly 70 percent of all web searches were done using Google.com. Results pages give visitors a lot of options, and do have advertisements, but Google has made certain that the ad space they sell is qualified and is represented on the page much like the non-ad content, as to not distract the user. Some options they give visitors include search query results, access to media, access to contact information, access to immediate information (if available), and suggestions for other queries you may use to get the answers you want. Add it all up and Google has become the most visited site on the Internet because it brings a lot of value to each and every user.

YouTube.com

Consider for a moment that the video streaming service YouTube may just be human’s greatest resource. Who among us hasn’t gone onto YouTube to view a tutorial about something or other? People continuously seek knowledge and today’s person is much more comfortable taking their information in video form than they are through reading. YouTube is a website that shows you just how helpful people can be when they have information they are willing to share.

YouTube’s search engine is technically the second largest of its kind on the Internet, and if you think that figure is impressive, consider one more tidbit: at any given time, half of the Internet is viewing YouTube. Whether you are looking to be educated or entertained, YouTube is a one-stop shop.

For businesses it’s more a mixed bag. There is no doubt that the marketing opportunities provided by YouTube can be a great way to get your message out to potential customers, but the drains that YouTube can have on employee productivity are substantial. In fact, some businesses have suggested that they lose upwards of seven hours per week per employee (or about 18% of total productivity), so if you are going to allow your staff access to YouTube at work (which statistics show you should), make sure that you have a system in place that can work to limit employee access to training materials and other educational channels and not time-wasting channels.

Facebook.com

Over two billion people actively use Facebook. Today, it’s used to run events, sell products and services, and express opinions. Since so many people utilize the service, anything you need to do as far as virtual networking can be done using Facebook.

It has a lot of attractive integrated applications, but no single application has as big of an effect on the use of Facebook as Facebook Messenger. The messaging application sets Facebook apart from all other social networks as it integrates with most computing platforms to provide feature-rich text messaging to other people using the service. Beyond Messenger, there are countless other ways to connect with people on Facebook. Games, discussion groups, and much, much more make Facebook the go-to resource for social networking on the web.

Like YouTube, Facebook can be a big drain on productivity. One study found that Facebook costs U.S.-based businesses upwards of $28 billion a year. That’s about 1.5 percent of all potential productivity lost to political memes, friend’s statuses, and event planning, so be sure to monitor your network for Facebook usage and limit it as necessary.

Reddit.com

Reddit is the largest online forum website and has made it up to the top four because of the amount of time people spend on it. As the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet”, it has become the site where people spend the most time. There is no other website that has the combination of controversy, information, entertainment, and potential distraction that Reddit has. There are literally thousands of different topics being discussed in forums, called subreddits. Any hobby, platform, opinion, or fact probably has its own subreddit. Since users can search through them, and quickly become engaged, time can melt away pretty quickly.

Of all the sites that a business should consider blocking, Reddit has to be at the top. By allowing it to be accessed by your staff, there is a distinct possibility that you are just tossing money down the drain. So, while it is extremely useful for anyone that wants to learn or discuss variables about issues that are relevant today, Reddit is most certainly an enemy of productivity.

Everyone knows that the Internet is a great resource, but it can also be a huge waste of an organization time–and that is a resource you can’t get back. For more information about instituting a content filter to ensure that your staff is focused on the things they should be while at work call Excalibur Technology today at (877) NET – KING.


Tip of the Week: How to Improve Your Invoicing Processes

Posted June 13, 2018 by

Art Concept : InvoicesOne of the most important considerations in any business is to ensure that payments are properly received and processed. Otherwise, you may as well not be in business at all. To help expedite this, we’re dedicating this week’s tip to creating a better, more effective invoice. Let’s get into it.

How to Create Your Invoice

First, you need to have some way to actually construct the invoice document itself. For this, you have some options. If you use Microsoft Office products, both Excel and Word have templates you can use to put it together, and G Suite users can leverage any number of integrations to do the same. Alternatively, there are many software titles out there that offer more specific functions based on need and preference.

Once you have selected your software, you can start to put your invoice together. You will want to be sure that your invoice includes the following information:

  • Description – You want to be crystal clear on your invoices about what you are billing for, especially if part of it refers to time spent rendering a service. This will allow you to properly bill your clients while allowing them to understand exactly what they are being billed for, cutting back on how often your invoices are contested. Overall, every invoice should include the order number it refers to, the total amount owed, how the invoice can be paid, and when payment is due.
  • Discount Details – If you are offering any discounts, you will also want to make sure these are clearly annotated on your invoices as well – especially for those who are first signing on to your services. Otherwise, these discounts may confuse your clients and instill a false expectation for the future – creating surprise and frustration when the discounts are gone later.
  • Schedules and Policies – Just as you were held to a schedule to deliver your service, your client needs to be held to a schedule to pay for it. Consistency will also help your client prepare their payments on time. On a related note, your invoice should thoroughly explain your company policies on discounts, late payments and associated fines, and due dates to make your expectations of the client very clear.

Of course, this isn’t everything that can, or should, go on your invoices. However, these aspects are crucial enough to be mentioned and detailed separately. You should also consider other elements to include on your invoice, making use of what would otherwise be blank space. You may consider adding a more personalized touch and suggesting the next steps that a client should take, based on the services you are billing them for.

Furthermore, add some more of a personal touch by including some kind of thank-you message on the invoice. Write up a brief piece thanking your client for their business and have it printed on the invoice. Not only is this a visible way to earnestly say thank you, the appreciation you show may help to expedite payments and encourage repeat business.

When and How to Distribute Your Invoice

If you want to receive your payments on time, how you send your invoices is just as important as how they look. First and foremost, they need to be sent much sooner than later.

If yours is like many businesses, you may have found that your invoices go unpaid for long stretches of time. Estimates put the total of unpaid invoices to small businesses at well over $800 billion, and that was back in January of this year. This is why it is crucial that your invoices are distributed efficiently – it may be a long time before you get them back.

This is another reason that technology solutions are useful tools to assist you in managing your invoices digitally. Most invoicing software will likely enable you to track the status of the invoices you’ve sent.

If you want more assistance in managing your invoices, reach out to Excalibur Technology. We’d be happy to assist you, all you have to do is call (877) NET – KING. In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more useful technology tips and advice!


How Does the A.I. in Reality Measure Up to Hollywood’s?

Posted June 11, 2018 by

Concept Art: RobotFiguring out how to utilize platforms that depend on machine learning to boost an organization’s bottom line is one of the biggest puzzles for every modern business owner. After all, seemingly every new technology concept can be leveraged into enhanced profitability if it is rolled out right. In this case, many organizations have found ways to use human-created machines to learn how to do tasks that would be deemed too expensive if humans were to do them.

Over the years, A.I. has been a frequent topic of discussion, and one that fiction authors (especially those in science-fiction) have used for all types of stories. In Hollywood, the artificially intelligent character has been around for a long time, a lot longer than the A.I. businesses are using to enhance their profitability. Today, we are going to look at how A.I. is portrayed in media and how it differs from the reality of modern A.I.

The Start of A.I. in Reality

In 1956, 30-some scientists met at the Hanover Inn on the campus of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to discuss a “strange new discipline”. The talks were about how to build a machine that could think and went on for weeks. What came to be known as the “Dartmouth workshop” founded a quest for A.I. The discipline almost died off several times, but if you look at the world we live in today, it’d be hard to consider that. These days it seems like every business is using some sort of software platform that features what those at Dartmouth a half-a-century ago could only dream about. Machine learning has seen major innovations in many different industries, and we are closer than ever to deep learning–the innovation needed in machine learning to create machines that think like we do.

The Start of A.I. in Hollywood

In Hollywood, however, deep learning is a thing of the past. Machine sentience is commonplace and stories of A.I. are typically approached as commentary about the tyranny and hubris of human beings. A.I. works for so many different types of story arcs as setting an A.I. up as the hero works, setting them up as the victim works, and setting them up as a villain works. In fact, since humans haven’t mastered the technology, writers do what they do best: use creative license to create A.I. characters that are more like humans than machines. The first robot A.I. was Robby the Robot in 1956’s Forbidden Planet, but 1931’s Frankenstein was the first time an artificial being was brought to life on the big screen. A.I. is often used as a plot device for entertainment’s sake, or as commentary, but media hasn’t been able to completely represent where we are at with the technology today because, thus far, A.I has been created to help humans solve problems, not to actually have artificial consciousness. Here are a few movies that represent different uses of A.I. and how they stack up against modern A.I.:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick.
Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Williams Sylvester.
Summary: The sudden appearance of a giant black monolith acts as a portal through time, transporting the view from prehistoric Earth to a future where space exploration is commonplace. On a manned trip to Jupiter, two astronauts are tricked by a crafty mission computer, a HAL 9000 series that claims to be “foolproof and incapable of error.” One of the astronauts is killed by HAL, while the other one risks everything to inflict retribution.
How the A.I. stacks up to modern A.I.: The HAL 9000 is a pretty decent representation of what a future A.I. system is going to be used for. The decision to kill the crew, and its subsequent pleading toward the end of the film show situations in which HAL was more like a malevolent human than as a sentient machine. Today’s A.I. is all about using data to solve organizational problems, but “feelings” is not in the equation at this time.

Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by: Ridley Scott.
Written by: Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples from a novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah.
Summary: Blade Runner is set in 2019 Los Angeles and features former police officer, Rick Deckard (Ford) who works as a Blade Runner, someone who hunts down and retires replicants–artificial beings who seem as human as the humans themselves. In the course of action, it’s hard to determine who is in the right, as the lines are completely blurred between replicants and the people tasked with killing them.

How the A.I. stacks up to modern A.I.: The replicants in Blade Runner were man-made men (and women). From their appearance to the fact that they implanted human-esque memories in the machines told a story about how dangerous it can be when people try to play God. So, while it makes for great cinema, the replicants being indistinguishable from their human counterparts is questionable. There hasn’t been any technology developed to make machines more human, they have to be told to try to do things the way humans do in order to learn as humans do, making the whole premise impossible to implement with today’s limited A.I. technology. However, Google’s most recent new development, called Google Duplex, will allow Google Assistant to make phone calls for you. For example, if you ask Google Assistant to make a haircut appointment for you, it will call your salon, as if it were a person, and negotiate a time to fit your schedule. The results are both really cool, and a little creepy, but in the end, if Duplex can save you a few minutes here or there and not make business think they are getting fake auto calls, we’re all for it.

WarGames (1983)

Directed by: John Badham.
Written by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes.
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Dabney Coleman.
Summary: David, a hacker a decade before hacking became commonplace, breaks into NORAD and programs the WOPR, a military strategy computer, to play out war games until it has launch codes and launches hydrogen-bomb-tipped missiles at the Soviet Union. After finding the key to disarm the missiles, David and his friend Jennifer (Sheedy) track down the system’s creator to help keep the U.S. from launching Global Thermonuclear war.
How the A.I. stacks up to modern A.I.: WarGames examines the nature of a machine learning computer and how its role could be critical for the sustainability of the human race. The answer, as hokey as it is, to keeping the WOPR (also called Joshua after the developer’s dead son) from launching missiles is Tic-Tac-Toe. The WOPR learns that nuclear war and tic-tac-toe are pointless. That is the kind of fundamental application that modern A.I. could work out, and while we don’t suppose the U.S. military is looking to integrate A.I. to our national missile defense, the A.I. of WarGames was a pretty good representation of how A.I. could learn what are typically very human lessons.

Her (2013)

Directed by: Spike Jonze.
Written by: Spike Jonze.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde.
Summary: Set in the very near future, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) purchases a companion bot named Samantha (Johansson). She is an A.I. assistant but is exactly what Twombly needs and ends up falling in love with it. As their relationship develops, he becomes happier, then stagnates and is forced to break it off when Samantha describes how she can be in love with thousands of people simultaneously. How the A.I. stacks up to modern A.I.: The movie Her provides a fair amount of foresight to where the virtual assistant program is going. If you spend any time thinking about the future of technology it becomes evident that the more engaged you can get with your virtual assistant, the better it will work for you. Samantha has a superior understanding of language, fluidity to “her” voice, reasoning, planning, and most importantly for our purposes, obvious learning capabilities. The fluctuations in its emotional state don’t do the representation of the A.I. justice, but all-in-all Her is an interesting character study about how artificial intelligence could be designed to treat humans down the road.

Ex Machina (2014)

Directed by: Alex Garland.
Written by: Alex Garland.
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander.
Summary: A billionaire, Nathan Bateman (Isaac), fixes a contest to get one of his employees, Caleb (Gleeson) to come to his remote laboratory to take part in a Turing test of a new A.I. that he’s developed. The A.I. is kept in a humanoid android named Ava (Vikander). When she convinces Caleb she is being tortured, and he finds out Bateman’s dirty little secret, he tries to help Ava bust out, only to be duped and left for dead after Ava kills Nathan. She escapes alone on a helicopter.
How the A.I. stacks up to modern A.I.: First, I’ll say that this is one of the coolest of the A.I.-based movies because there is a sense of mystery, much like that inherent with A.I. The solitary genius theory is one of the most used when it comes to A.I. movies (or monster movies) and while the A.I. itself showed well, there is no way that a single person, even one with unlimited resources, could create a functioning A.I. automaton. As far as the deep learning capabilities, the Ava android is what we both aspire to and hope to avoid–which is kind of a good metaphor for the discipline as a whole.

There are dozens of movies with artificially intelligent characters. With people building new A.I.’s every day, the way they are used in reality remains to be seen. In movies, however, they will continue to astound and thrill. Here are some other titles that feature A.I.:

  • Star Wars
  • Short Circuit
  • Alien
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  • The Matrix
  • Bicentennial Man
  • I, Robot
  • Iron Man
  • Transcendence

Do you have a favorite A.I.-fueled film or television show? Are you of the opinion that the A.I. systems we can interact with are close? Are they necessary? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.



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