The WOPR might be my favorite "evil computer"

The WOPR might be my favorite "evil computer"

I think we all know about the evil computer HAL and the human race destroying operating system VICKI from the movies (among others), but do you know WOPR?

Ive been doing a lot of research for some talks that I have lined up soon and I came across a book that referenced a fictional computer named the WOPR (pronounced like Whopper, the burger). The gist of the film is that this computer is trying to start WW3. The WOPR, standing for War Operation Plan Response, is the main evil computer character from the 1983 movie WarGames starring Matthew Broderick.

I work in technology so often the discussion of "technology destroying the world" comes up in conversation and fictional evil computers are debated. Without getting into the details of this film, but also saving you a reason to watch it, I just want to share this reference with you and why its important to both this conversation but also a great overall message (yes, I somehow gained life lessons from a silly 80s film).

Ok, spoiler alert, the computer goes into a sequence where the US government thinks it has multiple incoming rockets from Russia. This, of course, is actually the computer and its not actually happening but the characters in the film don't know this. They eventually, after what feels like forever, listen to David (Matthew Broderik's character) and realize its the computer fucking with them but they then realize they cant stop it from its second part of this "game" which is finding the launch codes for the US rockets and setting them off towards Russia thereby presumably starting WW3.

So how do they stop it? Well they have the WOPR play tic-tac-toe against itself. And, as you know if you are over the age of 6, this will result in only draws and no-win scenarios. It's mentioned all throughout the film that the computer can learn and so this exercise thereby teaches the computer that some games can have no winners. The computer learns the concept of futility, pointlessness or uselessness of a task or action, and then applies that lesson to the WarGame its playing. 

 WOPR playing tic-tac-toe.

WOPR playing tic-tac-toe.

As the WOPR circles though the launch codes that its working obtaining to launch the missiles it also starts to run all nuclear war scenarios it has come up with, finding that they, too, all result in no winners. Its screen shows each country launching missiles then displays the text "WINNER: NONE" on the screen over and over.

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At this point I'm sure you have figured out what happened, the computer learned that this "game" - it says that nuclear war is "a strange game" in which "the only winning move is not to play." It then offers to play "a nice game of chess."

 WOPR running though all nuclear possibilities.

WOPR running though all nuclear possibilities.

Why I might love the WOPR

Right, SO, I think the symbolism here is pretty obvious: games of no winners, learning the concept of futility, etc. But the thing that really hit me is that I think the lessons here apply as much in war as much as in your own life. You have to figure out what "games" in life might have "WINNER: NONE." Maybe its an argument at work or perhaps some bullshit on the internet.

You have to figure out what "games" in life might have "WINNER: NONE."

The technology part of this is also quite obvious, but where HAL and VIKI ultimately used their AI to determine that humans were the problem and should be eliminated (which I think is wildly entertaining), the WOPR ultimately wasn't such an evil computer after-all. It could learn, at least in a basic sense, a lesson that I think many people I know still haven't learned: know when to stop, know when the game is un-winnable.

FUN FACT: Ronald Reagan, US president at the time, was so interested in the film that it lead to the enactment of NSDD-145 18 months later, the first Presidential directive on computer security.

I think I love seeing fictional computers, especially in old movies, dish out life lessons and try predict what the future of computing might be.  

Annnnd now I want to go get a Whopper. Wait, who am I kidding, I'm going to Shake Shack!

 Image from Bustle.com

Image from Bustle.com

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