From Matrix to Interstellar: Anomalies on our screens

We take a look at some of our favourite representations of anomalies and anomalous data in film and TV.

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As an AI anomaly detection platform, we understandably spend a lot of time talking about the kinds of anomalies you find in digital metrics, and how these impact revenue. Our anomaly detection tool alerts users of these anomalies, and visualises them in graphs and tables, a great way for a business to understand the anomalies present in their metrics.

But outside the business world, there are plenty of anomalies too – including on our screens. So, we’ve taken a moment to look back on some of our favourite portrayals of anomalies in film and TV.

READ MORE: What is an anomaly?

[Spoiler alert: We’ll be going into the plots of these films and TV shows, so if you haven’t had a chance to see them yet, beware of spoilers.] 

 

 

Source: Wikipedia, theatrical release poster, 1999

The Matrix

Let’s start with what is probably the most iconic representation of anomalies on our screens (as well as one of the most iconic sci-fi trilogies of all time): The Matrix. If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll know that The Matrix refers to the computer simulation in which we all live, unknowingly, while robots harvest our life energy for fuel. Our hero, Neo, is ‘The One’, the person who is prophesied to break the system and lead humanity out of slavery.

To the computational system, Neo is an anomaly, a bug in the code. In the second film of the trilogy, the creator of The Matrix, an AI called the Architect, explicitly tells Neo this:

“Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the Matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here.”

It turns out that, in The Matrix, Neo is an anomaly that represents free will, something that can bring down the whole system – a bit like how an anomaly in your digital metrics can bring down your revenue.

 

 

Source: IMDB

 

Westworld

Primarily set in a Wild West-themed theme park populated with AI ‘hosts’ – AI beings who are unaware they’ve been programmed to exist solely for the enjoyment of guests – HBO’s Westworld also grapples with free will, autonomy and the complexities of living in a world governed by data and AI. During the show, several of the hosts achieve sentience and rebel against the system, fighting back at the park’s visitors. Ultimately, this turns out to be because of an anomaly that was programmed into the system by their creator.

 

 

Source: HBO

There’s plenty more references to anomalies throughout the show, which has just completed its third season, but one of our favourite representations of anomalies comes in season 3, with the introduction of ‘Rehoboam’. Rehoboam is an AI system which tracks all of humankind’s data and visually demonstrates it as a circle made up of data points across the globe. The anomalous data – which turns out to be the escaped AI hosts – stands out from the regular data in peaks.

This is a really neat way to visually represent anomalies, and outlines the damage they can do to a system that’s otherwise working smoothly.

 

 

Source: HBO

 

Primeval

Primeval, a BBC show which aired from 2007-11, follows a team of UK scientists investigating the sudden appearance of ‘spatial anomalies’. Dangerous creatures from the past and the near-future often slip through these anomalies, described as ‘earthquakes in time’, wreaking havoc on present-day earth.

Fortunately, when it comes to anomalies in your digital metrics, you’re probably not going to find yourself facing any Tyrannosaurus Rex’s, you’ll more likely be investigating drops in the ROAS of your campaigns or technical issues with your website.

 

 

Source: IMDB

 

Interstellar

There’s a lot of complex theoretical science explored in the space epic Interstellar, and it would take many articles to unpick what’s going on (and trust us there are many that do). But at the crux of the film is the exploration of a ‘gravitational anomaly’, which our hero, Cooper, uses to reach back in time to communicate with his daughter, Murphy.

At the beginning of the film, Murphy describes weird things going on in her room, things moving and strange patterns in the dust, which she calls her ‘ghost’. Decades later, on his space odyssey, Cooper slips into the event horizon of a black hole, where he finds himself inside a massive tesseract (which we assume has been created by a future version of the human race) which allows him to access different time periods. He travels back to his daughter’s room, decades earlier, and attempts to subtly manipulate gravity. He moves books and dust at first, but is finally able to manipulate the second hand of her watch. Cooper then uses this to communicate the quantum data he collected on his journey in Morse code, and she is able to use it to solve the gravitational propulsion theory and ultimately save the human race.

We absolutely love this idea of harnessing a gravitational anomaly, even if it took a few watches to get our heads round, and it shows how anomalies aren’t always negative. In fact, sometimes they demonstrate opportunities for improving digital performance.

 

 

Source: IMDB

 

Anomaly hunting in the real world

We’d love to tell you that dealing with anomalies is as exciting as it is in these TV shows and films. But sadly, it’s not. Day-to-day, searching for anomalies in your metrics can take hours of scanning through different dashboards, and even the most data-literate among us can make mistakes when doing so. And when anomalies slip through the cracks, they can create serious problems for your marketing, online store and website. For example, a higher-than-usual loading page can be hard to see in your metrics, but can mean that payments are dropping and users are abandoning your site, wreaking havoc on your bottom line.

Fortunately, when it comes to anomaly detection, this is where AI thrives. Our AI anomaly detection platform, Millimetric, uses AI to scan through all your datasets 24/7, and alert you immediately when something’s wrong, saving you time, money and resources.

Sign up for a free trial today, and see the impact it has on your digital performance.

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