The 1983 film War Games which starred the Matthew Broderick or Ferris Buller as many people would know him better as was a fantastic 80's movie and one of those movies that I would watch every time it is on TV. War Games is a story of artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, hacking, security, text to voice & centralised computing resources, set in the 1980's when the cold war was still raging.
For those that haven’t seen the film here is the plot.
During a surprise nuclear attack drill, many United States Air Force Strategic Missile Wing controllers prove unwilling to turn the keys required to launch a missile strike. Such refusals convince John McKittrick and other NORAD systems engineers that missile launch control centres must be automated, without human intervention. Control is given to a NORAD supercomputer known as the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response, pronounced "whopper"), programmed to continuously run war simulations and learn over time.
David Lightman played by Ferris, sorry Matthew Broderick is a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student and hacker, uses his IMSAI 8080 computer to access the school district's computer system and change his grades. He does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack. Later, while war dialling numbers in Sunnyvale, California, to find a computer game company, he connects with a system that does not identify itself. Asking for games, he finds a list that starts with chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker, as well as titles such as "Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare" and "Global Thermonuclear War", but cannot proceed further.
Two hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the Falken referenced in "Falken's Maze", the first game listed. David discovers that Stephen Falken was an early artificial-intelligence researcher, and David guesses correctly that the name of Falken's deceased son (Joshua) is the password.
Unaware that the Sunnyvale phone number connects to the WOPR at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, David initiates a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union and begins targeting American cities. The computer starts a simulation that briefly convinces NORAD military personnel that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. While they defuse the situation, the WOPR nonetheless continues the simulation to trigger the scenario and win the game, as it does not understand the difference between reality and simulation. It continuously feeds false data such as Soviet bomber incursions and submarine deployments to NORAD, pushing them to raise the DEFCON level toward a retaliation that will start World War III.
David learns the true nature of his actions from a news broadcast, and FBI special agents arrest him and take him to NORAD. He realizes that the WOPR is behind the NORAD alerts, but he fails to convince McKittrick (who believes David is working for the Soviets) and is charged with espionage. David escapes NORAD by joining a tourist group and, with Jennifer's help, travels to the Oregon island where Falken lives under the alias "Robert Hume". David and Jennifer find that Falken has become despondent, believing that nuclear war is inevitable and as futile as a game of tic-tac-toe between two experienced players. The teenagers convince Falken that he should return to NORAD to stop the WOPR.
The WOPR stages a massive Soviet first strike with hundreds of missiles, submarines, and bombers. Believing the attack to be genuine, NORAD prepares to retaliate. Falken, David, and Jennifer convince military officials to cancel the second strike and ride out the attack. When the targeted American bases report that everything's fine and they are unharmed, NORAD prepares to cancel the retaliatory second strike. The WOPR tries to launch the missiles itself using a brute-force attack to obtain the launch codes. Without humans in the control centers as a safeguard using the two-man rule, the computer will trigger a mass launch. All attempts to log in and order the WOPR to cancel the countdown fail. Disconnecting the computer is discussed and dismissed, as a failsafe will launch all weapons if the computer is disabled, acting like a fail-deadly ignition to World War III.
Falken and David direct the computer to play tic-tac-toe against itself. This results in a long string of draws, forcing the computer to learn the concept of futility and no-win scenarios. The WOPR obtains the launch codes, but before launching, it cycles through all the nuclear war scenarios it has devised, finding that they all result in draws as well. Having discovered the concept of mutual assured destruction ("WINNER: NONE"), the computer tells Falken it has concluded that nuclear war is "a strange game" in which "the only winning move is not to play." The WOPR relinquishes control of NORAD and the missiles and offers to play "a nice game of chess".
So how far have we come since the film release ?
Lets have a look at each technology area
Centralised computing resources
Rather than a huge mainframe with flashing lights sat in its own room with its name written on the shell now it would more than likely be sat in the cloud and there wouldn’t be as many flickering LED's.
Now sadly this is still a major issue, however I would guess that hacking the U.S government is a little harder than just guessing a 1 word password. In todays environment organisations are using complex passwords, multi factor authentication, biometrics, face recognition in combination with each other.
Text to voice
Obviously this has come a long way from the synthesised voice in the movie, just think of your favourite smart assistant like Alexa, even before that we had MR T giving you your sat nav directions.
This has been around for many years, automating a process from human intervention to system process has been common practice in the enterprise for years however this is now making waves all the way down to small and micro businesses with the cloud and a suite of easily accessible RPA tools.
A.I & Machine Learning
From the days of Sarah Connor and Terminator A.I has been a subject of many films, they usually morph into some sort of human killing machine, we have even seen ones that harvest humans as a source of energy and create a virtual world in order to do this (Matrix if you didn’t know) so you could say quite an advanced form of A.I
A.I and most of all machine learning in War Games is a rudimentary version of the technology, however a very very important version. Playing a game of Tic-Tac-Toe or noughts and crosses as us Brits know it the system learns that there is no winner. It also uses a test environment to model outcomes from different scenarios and learns quickly that in nuclear war there is no winner.
If you haven't seen it then please watch it, I guarantee you will like it, although being dated the film hits right at the heart of what was a terrifying time because tensions between the U.S.A & U.S.S.R were real, in todays world that would be like watching a movie where the UK have serious political issues with the European Union (oh wait…..)
I suppose you can link most movies to technology in some way shape or form but in War Games I think we have a classic that should not be forgotten.
If you want to watch the movie you can stream it on Amazon Prime here
Thanks for reading