TELEPRESENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE

A study of portrayals of presence

The X-Files: Kill Switch

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ABOUT THE WORK

MEDIUM:

TV episode 

YEAR:

1998 

WRITER(S):

William Gibson and Tom Maddox 

OWN COPY?

Yes 
 

ABOUT THE STORY

SUMMARY:

Synopsis Several heavily-armed crack dealers receive an anonymous telephone call alerting them to the whereabouts of a hated enemy. The men all converge on a diner, but none find their target. Two deputy marshals receive a similar anonymous tip, alerting them about a Colombian fugitive in the same diner. The marshals enter the diner and order everyone onto the floor. Drug dealers draw their weapons and a fierce gun battle ensues. As the agents observe the aftermath of the shoot-out, Mulder pulls a tarp off the face of Donald Gelman, one of the co-inventors of the Internet. Gelman had been working at his laptop inside the diner when the shooting broke out and became trapped in the cross-fire. Mulder sneaks Gelman's laptop under his jacket and brings it back to Scully's car. He finds a blank CD in the laptop drive, which when placed inside Scully's CD-player emits music from The Platters' Twilight Time. Puzzled, Mulder brings the CD to the Lone Gunmen for further analysis. When they are unable to crack the disc's security code, Scully suggests they check Gelman's e-mail log. They find a message containing a standard ID number for a shipping container. The message is signed by someone named Invisigoth. The agents track the number to a container yard. A figure springs from the darkness, zaps Mulder with a stun-gun, and runs off into the night. Scully apprehends the suspect, Esther Nairn, a gorgeous young woman with a nose ring, and escorts her back to the container, which is brimming with sophisticated computer equipment. Esther's attention is diverted to one of the monitors. She tells the agents that an armed Department of Defense satellite has locked onto their location. Despite the farfetchedness of the tale, Mulder convinces Scully they must leave the area immediately. Shortly thereafter, a strange green light descends from the heavens and destroys the shipping container. Mulder concludes that Donald Gelman realized his lifelong dream: the construction of a sentient artificial intelligence, a computer program with its own consciousness. Esther confirms Mulder's suspicion, describing how Gelman unleashed the program onto the Internet so it could evolve--much like the primordial slime from which mankind evolved. She tells the agents that the AI monitors all communication, and will destroy her the moment it locks onto her location. Esther also reveals that Gelman was in the process of creating a special virus program, nicknamed "Kill Switch," that would hunt down and destroy the rogue system. Instead of simply destroying Gelman with a laser from above, Esther is convinced it killed its creator with a dozen crack dealers in an effort to show off its sense of humor. She also believes the virus is holed up on a computer somewhere--and the only way to kill it is to find and destroy its safe house. By accessing government files, Mulder locates a suspicious T3 line, one that would be needed by the AI to access the Internet. He traces the cable to an abandoned farm on which sits a trailer. Meanwhile, Esther gets the jump on Scully and forces her at gun point to drive to an isolated location where she hopes to find one of her colleagues, a man named David Markham. Esther exits the car and begins crying at the site of a demolished house. During her absence, Scully manages to unshackle her handcuffs. Esther gives Scully back her gun and asks her to "put her out of her misery." Esther then admits to Scully that she and David had planned to download their consciousness and enter the AI. But Gelman forbade the idea. Mulder gains access to the trailer housing the T3 line. Inside he discovers David Markham's body, his face concealed by a virtual reality mask. Suddenly, several crab-like droids spring from the jungle of cables and constrain Mulder. Mulder experiences strange visions involving nurses in a 1940s hospital who threaten to amputate him, limb by limb, unless he reveals the location of Kill Switch. Meanwhile, the AI pinpoints Scully and Esther in their car near a turntable drawbridge. The pair become trapped and, at Scully's urging, Esther tosses the laptop into the water. Moments later, a green laser blasts the water. Scully and Esther climb into the trailer where Mulder is bound by the crab-droids. Several of the robotic creatures attack, and Scully dispatches them with her revolver. Scully finds Mulder, his head encased in the virtual reality mask (the source of his strange visions). Esther produces the CD, and Scully gives the AI what it wants, inserting the disk into a drive. The AI releases Mulder, and Scully drags him outside. Esther accesses a keyboard and instructs the satellite to lock onto the trailer's coordinates. When Scully reenters the trailer, she finds Esther wearing the virtual reality helmet, the body of her beloved David nearby. Scully races from the trailer, and Esther instructs the AI to upload. Moments later, the green laser destroys the trailer. When Mulder recovers, he tells Scully that Esther's consciousness may have joined the AI.  

ERA/YEAR:

Present day when produced 

CHARACTERISTICS
OF WORLD:

This aired in 1998 and took place in that year. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE-EVOKING TECHNOLOGY
NAME:
artifical intelligence; virtual reality 
DESCRIPTION:
There is a super intelligent artifical intelligence loose on the Internet. It is trying to kill its creators. it has a base in a rural area, an RV filled with wires, harddrives, monitors, etc. However, it lives online. It does not speak or appear human, but is a conscience, and has intentions. It has control over satelittes and can direct killer rays from them. It entraps Mulder and places him in a virtual reality, that is so vivid and real, he thinks it is. It mentally tortures him though virtual reality, until he realizes is fake, through a glitch which reveals code. The artifical intelligence has evolved to be humanlike, but without a physical body or any seemingly good human traits. 
NATURE OF TASK OR ACTIVITY:
Well, the artifical intelligence is chasing its creators, so in a sense, it is always there, while they go about trying to locate its base. In the virtual reality segment, Mulder is in a hospital, where they cut off his arms as a means of toture. It seemed real. In the real world, Mulder was hooked into a machine, which held him in a standing position and his eyes open, covered with goggles of some type. 
PERFORMANCE OF THE TECHNOLOGY:
The artifical intelligence functioned as designed; however, it grew more independent than expected and turned on those who created it. 
 
ABOUT THE CREATORS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
DESCRIPTION:
The primary creator was likened to Bill Gates in terms of computer knowledge. He worked in Silicon Valley, but gave it up in 1979 and went off the grid. He was a middle aged white man, sickly in appearence. Of course, his helper was a hot young bl 
MAJOR GOAL(S):
They seem to have created it just becuase they could - to advance technology. Then, the two helpers wanted to live forever, by uploading thier consciencousness's to the artifical intelligence and the Internet. 
 
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE PRESENCE
DESCRIPTION:
The people who are aware of the artifical intelligence are the creators, described above, and then Mulder is entrapped in the virtual reality by the artificial intelligence. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE EXPERIENCE
TYPE(S) OF PRESENCE:
Both spatial and social presence 
DESCRIPTION:
In terns of the AI, it is like a person - a person trying to kill you. It stalks its creators though monitoring their electronic devices. So, that was pretty terrifying. Then Mulder is in the virtual reality, being tortured. He thought it was real. 
USER AWARENESS:
Everyone is aware of the AI. At first, Mulder is unaware he is in VR. Eventually, he realizes it is not real, through seeing code. He sees the code because he assaults a fake Scully. He knows she would not act the way she is acting and pushes her, upsetting the design of the environment. 
VALENCE:
Unpleasent. terrifying. horrific. 
SPECIFIC RESPONSES:
Being in the VR was unpleasent, as it was torturing Mulder. When the woman uploaded herself to the AI, she was killed. 
 
ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRESENCE
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES:
It appears to be bad - everyone invovled in the AI physically died. However, it was implied that the woman lived on through AI (her conscience was online). 
 
AND FINALLY...
OTHER INFORMATION:
 
CODER NAME:
Amanda Scheiner 
CODER E-MAIL:
amandags@temple.edu 
CODER AFFILIATION:
Temple University 
DATE CODED:
5/2/2006 

 


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