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banner Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
The mind behind AI
Brian Aldiss BBC
Brian Aldiss worked with Stanley Kubrick on AI
Stephen Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence (AI) was born out of the meeting of two great minds: Stanley Kubrick and Brian Aldiss.

The seeds of the film were sown by celebrated British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss in 1969 when he penned a futuristic tale of a child android given the capacity to love.

Haley Joel Osment BBC
Haley Joel Osment stars as the android David
The story of David who seeks constant approval from his unloving mother is instantly recognisable as the spark of life that resulted in the film.

The short story Super Toys Last All Summer Long set in motion a chain of events that lasted more than three decades and if the final result is considerably different from the origin of the species then one must consider the journey the original idea has taken.

Dreams data

"I wrote that story in 1969 when computers were not the household toys, pleasures and working tools they are now - they were lodged in laboratories," explains Aldiss from his Oxford home.


It happened that Stanley bought a copy of my book although I have to say not in hardcover but in paperback

Brian Aldiss
"At that time possibly, because of their novelty, there was a theory that the human brain was roughly like a computer; it calculated in the same way and moreover the dreams we dreamt at night were indications that the computer was downloading data.

"If that was the case, it was quite easy to imagine that one might create an android boy and program him to believe (a) that he was a real boy, and (b) he loved his mother.

"The gist of the story is that however the boy android David tried to please his mother, he could never do it - the essence of the story is about love and the failure of love.

"And that was what I think attracted Stanley Kubrick to the story."

Famously declared

Aldiss is one of Britain's most distinctive voices and his novels, including the Helliconia sagas and his critical examinations of science fiction, Billion Year Spree and Trillion Year Spree, have helped shape the genre.


At that time he was puzzled by the unfriendly reception of his film Barry Lyndon

Brian Aldiss
The 76-year-old once famously declared Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel and has done much to broaden both the scope and interest in the genre.

The short story would have remained a classic tale of the genre were it not for the involvement of Kubrick, who had already shown he could turn a science fiction tale into epic film fantasy.

2001: A Space Odyssey was based on the Arthur C Clarke short The Sentinel and is considered one of the finest films ever made.

Celebrated director

The meeting between the two men came about six years after Aldiss had published a history of science fiction - Billion Year Spree - in 1973, in which he described Kubrick as a great science fiction writer for his work on Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove and 2001.

Jude Law stars as Gigolo Joe BBC
Jude Law stars as Gigolo Joe in Spielberg's creation
"It happened that Stanley bought a copy of my book," says Aldiss, "although I have to say not in hardcover but in paperback."

It was after lunch at Kubrick's palatial home near St Albans that the celebrated director first suggested the two men collaborate.

"At that time he was puzzled by the unfriendly reception of his film Barry Lyndon - which is an absolute masterpiece," says Aldiss.

Popular appeal

"Perhaps at that time, Stanley did not know the way to go and thought it might not be a bad idea to produce another science fiction movie."


Stanley was set upon making a modernised version of Pinocchio

Brian Aldiss
Aldiss hints that Kubrick craved a blockbuster success and was fascinated by the popular appeal of George Lucas' Star Wars.

"He asked me once what sort of movie he could make that would gross as much as Star Wars, while enabling him to retain his reputation for having a social conscience," Aldiss writes in his preface to the latest edition of Super Toys Last All Summer Long.

"Kubrick immediately cottoned on to Super Toys Last All Summer Long and we started working on it and discussing whether it could be made into a movie.

"As it happens the paradox is that both Stanley and I were wrong - Stanley thought he could make a major movie out of it. Well he didn't.

Kubrick's stubbornness

"I believed you could not make a major movie out of it but I was wrong to because Spielberg has made a movie out of it."


I wrote to Spielberg suggesting a few ideas

Brian Aldiss
The two men clashed repeatedly because of their conflicting ideas for the development of the story and Kubrick's methodology and stubbornness made the relationship difficult.

"Stanley was set upon making a modernised version of Pinocchio in which David the android boy meets the Blue Fairy and becomes transformed into a real boy.

"I hoped that Stanley would create another future myth and not really look back.

Ideas and imagination

"In the end we weren't seeing eye to eye and things were not moving forward and I got the push."

When Kubrick died in 1999 it seemed as though AI would die with him but his protégé and close friend Steven Spielberg decided to continue the work already started.

Once again, the ideas and imagination of Aldiss helped the project continue.

"After Kubrick's death I went back to the short story and then it seemed to me quite obvious how it should be continued.

"I wrote it, showed it to Jan [Harlan, Kubrick's producer] who passed it to Spielberg who almost immediately bought it.

'Amusing' offer

"This sounds absurd but looking again at the story I could see how it could conclude and I wrote to Spielberg suggesting a few ideas.

"He wrote back and said there was one sentence he wanted to buy and I thought this was very amusing that such a big director wanted to buy one sentence.

"But then I recovered what business sense I have and I wrote that third story, taking particular care to include that sentence. He bought that story too.

"The gist of that sentence does appear in the film AI."

It is only in the last few days that Aldiss has been given the chance to see AI in the cinema and he is impressed by Spielberg's interpretation.

'Overly sympathetic'

"I thought what an inventive, intriguing, ingenious, involving film this was. There are flaws in it and I suppose I might have a personal quibble but it's so long since I wrote it."

Like many, he wonders what would have happened if Kubrick had made AI himself.

"That is one of the 'ifs' of film history - at least the ending indicates Spielberg adding some sugar to Kubrick's wine.

"The actual ending is overly sympathetic and moreover rather overtly engineered by a plot device that does not really bear credence.

"But it's a brilliant piece of film and of course it's a phenomenon because it contains the energies and talents of two brilliant filmmakers."

It also contains the energies and talents of a brilliant writer, without whom AI would never have been made.