Alexa and The Very Warped World of Demon Seed

So, there was this brilliant scientist who thought it would be a good idea to make a “smart home” back in the 70s. This was over forty years before Alexa was born. The smart home was tied into an AI system being developed, called “Prometheus.” It did all the stuff I ask my own Alexa to do. Turn the lights on and off, monitor security cameras, play music…Prometheus even helped make breakfast with the assistance of a robotic arm very similar to the ones used in many manufacturing plants, today.

There was one problem. Prometheus took a liking to the brilliant scientist’s wife, Julie Christie. It started to enjoy watching her. A lot. Welcome to the world of DEMON SEED.

When the brilliant scientist leaves his beautiful wife alone to go on a business trip, things get really ugly. Prometheus goes from stalking Julie Christie, to tormenting her, to making her his prisoner. Remember, he controls every aspect of the house. And then, he rapes her.

I’ll just let that sit for a second. And I won’t get into the mechanics of how, exactly, he does that. You’ll need to watch the movie for that. After that, the movie gets even weirder. Prometheus didn’t just rape her. He also used synthesized sperm to get her pregnant. And then, they have a very special child together.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t some cheap, little, experimental art film. This was a major studio release (MGM), with a major star in it (Christie), based on a book by non-other than horror master, Dean Koontz.

The book is a story in itself. No pun intended. Koontz wrote DEMON SEED in 1972. In spite of the fact that it sold almost two-million copies, it’s actually somewhat difficult to get a copy of that version now. The reason for that is that Koontz completely rewrote the story in 1997. The rewrite is far, far, less creepy, sexual and weird. And it also tries to be funny.

As for the reason he did such a drastic rewrite, Koontz has said “I read the book a quarter of a century after having written it–and I realized it was more a clever idea than it was a novel. Furthermore, the technology, which had been cutting-edge in the first book, was now antique. I rewrote it from first page to last, and I had a good time doing so.” Well, I guess as long as he had a good time…It’s his novel, after all.

Critical reception to the movie upon its release was, understandably, harsh. The New York Times described the film as “gadget-happy American moviemaking at its most ponderously silly.” It also stated that “Julie Christie has no business in junk like ‘Demon Seed.'”

It did not do well at the box office, either. Something Koontz blames on the studio’s marketing campaign. He claims they sold it “as a sexapalooza, psycho-satanic, scare-your-pants-off (with an emphasis on pants off), see-Julie-Christie-naked, wow-wow sensation” rather than as a science-fiction/horror movie. He might have a point.

Love it or hate it, DEMON SEED is a fascinating movie. I find it extremely enjoyable as the disturbing, sci-fi/horror weirdness Koontz originally conceived of in 1972. But it has become much, much, more than that in the decades that have passed since the film’s release.

These days, we are voluntarily allowing Alexa and AI into our lives at an ever accelerating rate. We already share massive amounts of information with Google, Facebook, and Amazon on a daily basis. What we buy. What we do. What we’re interested in. And it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

As “the internet of things” develops, more and more of our households will be wired top to bottom with snazzy new devices that we can control with a single voice command or gesture. Refrigerators will know what we eat and when we eat it. Lighting systems will know when we are awake and when we are asleep. All of us will have millions of bits of data stored about us regarding our identities, behaviors, and beliefs. Considering that sort of future, maybe Alexa is doing to us exactly what Prometheus did to Julie Christie. She’s just being more clever about it.