5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do

5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do

Has your mom ever called in a panic, saying the computer was displaying a weird error message and that she hurried and unplugged it just to be safe--and then dunked it in the bathtub so it wouldn't burn the house down?

It makes you realize that, to some people, a computer is still a terrifying box of mysteries. Well, we think Hollywood writers have those people in mind when they portray laptop computers doing everything short of blowing up the moon.

After all, according to the movies...

You Can Blow Up Shit At Will With Hacking

Worst Offender: Live Free or Die Hard

What Happened:
The movie' villain, Thomas Gabriel, and his band of hackers are so good at hacking that they've gained the powers of an all-seeing and all-knowing God:

"OK, I want you to hack into that traffic light and make it red. Good. Now, I want you to hack into Kevin Smith' basement and physically move his webcam around the room. Now, hack into the brain of that fighter pilot and get him to shoot missiles into the middle of a busy freeway."

Hacking is to this movie what magic is in the Harry Potter stories: plot-hole spackle. All the gaping cracks in logic between scene A to scene C can be neatly smoothed over with the mystical power of hack. The improbability reaches critical mass, though, when the bad guys hack into the natural-gas lines near a power plant and make them spontaneously explode under the streets.

Why It's Ridiculous:
Look, we acknowledge that Bruce Willis movies take place in a universe where every object is teetering on the brink of spontaneous detonation (see Armageddon, wherein the bolt on a valve handle breaks, causing an entire space station to erupt in an enormous fireball). Still, if natural-gas safety precautions were so poor that entire city blocks could explode via broadband modem, we're certain the guys at 4chan would have done it by now.

In Real Life
Gabriel would make his insane demands to his hackers who, in turn, would snort derisively and call him a n00b. An hour later, 30 unwanted pizzas would turn up, mysteriously ordered under his name from Pizza Hut' online order form, while the hackers giggle and high-five each time the doorbell rings.

Hacking Will Let You Steal Any Damned Thing You Want

Worst Offender: Swordfish

What Happened:
The presumed abilities of computers are fairly well detailed in the actual tagline of this movie: "Log on. Hack in. Go anywhere. Steal everything." And, that' no exaggeration. If you watch the movie, you'll realize that's exactly what the filmmakers believe. John Travolta' villain in Swordfish is Gabriel Shear (wait, wasn't the Die Hard bad guy named Gabriel, too?) and his scheme was to steal $9.5 billion from the U.S. government. With hacking.

Above: Hacking

Why It's Ridiculous:
The entire premise of the plot is that in the vast, computerized world of modern finance, $9.5 billion could slip through the cracks so that a clever hacker could, with hacking, transfer it to his own account unnoticed. This sounds plausible to some, because almost all the money exists only in computers (not even 10% percent of our money exists as printed currency) and it seems like that would make it easier to steal.

We assure you, wherever there is $9.5 billion, there are several people who will fucking notice if it's gone. In a world full of brilliant, real-life hackers, the reason the money doesn't continually vanish from your checking account is because there are equally brilliant people working on the other side.

In Real Life�
Shear's entire plan was to steal the money so he could use it to run an underground anti-terror organization. We're pretty sure all that takes is writing a letter to your congressman and saying, "I would like $9.5 billion to run an underground anti-terror organization." The check should arrive within four to six weeks.

Your Personal and Social Life Can Be Permanently Dismantled By People Who Know Stuff About Computers

Worst Offender: The Net

What Happened:
Hackers are after Sandra Bullock. Using the Internet, they change her identity from successful, established Angela Bennett to Ruth Marx, a prostitute, drug addict and convict. Bullock spends the rest of the film running away from the hackers and the police because the Internet, evidently, infiltrated Bennett' family, her doctors, her neighbors and anyone she' ever gone to school with.

Why It's Ridiculous:
The Net came out in 1995, when lots of people still had never actually seen the Internet (this may include the screenwriter). Since Americans have never met a threat we couldn't grossly exaggerate, we immediately decided the 'net was in control of every single event that transpired on Earth and could fuck it all up with the slightest provocation (for reference, see the Y2K scare).

In Real Life�
The hackers would first go right for her MySpace, filling it with tons of gay porn. Then, upon figuring out that her online banking password was "PASSWORD" they would "steal her identity" in the sense that they would use her credit card to buy tons of anime porn DVDs. The final act of this drama would be Bullock cancelling the card by filling out several forms while sighing in annoyance.

Also, we notice that Sandra Bullock's character is portrayed as a hopeless loner. In the real world, a computer geek who was female and looked like Bullock ...

... would have approximately 375 male "friends" orbiting around her on a daily basis, staring hungrily each time she turned her back and always trying to surreptitiously smell her hair.

A Computer Might Become Self-Aware At Any Moment

Worst Offender: WarGames

What Happened:
A teenage hacker (Matthew Broderick), using an early-80s computer that looks like it may have parts made of wood, accidentally hacks into NORAD' supercomputer (code named "WOPR") and finds out it is sentient and intends to launch a global nuclear war as a way to amuse itself.

Why It's Ridiculous:
That thing that qualified as a "supercomputer" in 1984? Your Xbox 360 is 500 times faster. Look it up. And, it' pretty hard to imagine your Xbox giving birth to sentience when what it calls "A.I." involves the enemies in a World War II shooter running confusedly into brick walls, face first.

In Real Life�
The microwave-sized IMSAI 8080 computer the hero used to take over the nation' nuclear missile fleet had 64KB of memory.

That means if it tried to open this article as a Word document, it'd get about half way through before it ran out.

Computers Can Talk to Goddamned UFOs

Worst Offender: Independence Day

What Happened:
The Earth is under attack by a race of vastly advanced aliens, so Jeff Goldblum creates a virus from his PowerBook that disables the entire apparently Macintosh-compatible fleet of ships.

Why It's Ridiculous:
This is difficult to wrap our minds around. The aliens in Independence Day were not only thousands of years ahead of us technologically, but also were an entirely different species. Therefore, Goldblum's feat was the equivalent of colony of baboons in the Congo hacking into CitiBank using tree bark and clumps of their own feces.

Yes, we know it's just a big, fun sci-fi rollercoaster ride. Yes, we're willing to turn our brains off-they're in that state through most of our workweek anyway. But meet us half way, Hollywood. Write it so that, say, the guys at Area 51 had taken one of the alien's computers off the Roswell ship and reverse-engineered it over the decades. Or, something. Work with us, here.

But of course, there is exactly one reason why the aliens were defeated by a PowerBook in Independence Day: because Apple paid for it as part of the product placement. Yes, my friends, the entire plot culminated in an advertisement, and one you paid to see.

In real life�
That new Mac operating system that's coming out? Goldblum' PowerBook 5300 had about one-tenth the memory needed to run it. So, forget uplinking to an alien freaking starship; if he simply tried to run a piece of software from the same damned manufacturer from just 10 years in the future, the result would look something like this:

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