Movies for Computer Science Students

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Movies for Computer Science Students

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I had some email yesterday with a link to a post titled "The Top 10 Movies for Computer Science Students." It is an interesting list and I have seen most of these movies. And I have enjoyed several of them. I’m not sure if this is my top 10 list though. I worry about the computer science characters in some of them. Hacking is one thing but cracking is another. I think the differences are lost on many students (and still more in the media). I don’t like movies where the CS people are the bad guys. Antitrust: drives me crazy for example. It seem to show companies in the computer industry in a bad light. I don’t see the resemblance to Microsoft that some seem to see there BTW. It always makes me thing of one of several computer industry companies based in California which I will not name. 

And while computer science is not as hard as some would say it’s not the child's play that Wargames and Hackers seems to suggest. There is that moral ambiguity again as well.

I am surprised that Sneakers didn’t make their list though. Good hackers and evil crackers and a guest spot by a Cray super computer. It has it all. And speaking of Robert Redford and guest spots by famous computers there is Three Days of the Condor which has a PDP-8 in the opening scenes. Maybe that dates me – both remembering the movie and the PDP-8. I worked with one of those in college.

I think we have to be a little concerned about how computer scientists are presented in the media. We make an easy target but its seldom a fair portrait. We’re a whole lot more diverse than other portrayed. And less geeky. You’d never know from the movies and TV that there are some really good looking women in the field for example. And many of us actually get outdoors enough to get tans. More than that though computer science is making the world a better place every day. I’m not sure you’d learn that from movies or TV. And that is not a good thing.

So what movies would you recommend for computer science students? Are there some were the computer science is mostly real? Where the computer scientists are the “good guys?” Where computer science is helpful? Well, now that NUMB3RS is off the air. Sad smile



  • I have to go with the Terminator series.  Computers that are aware are the most interesting and the scariest.

  • That reminds me taht I, Robot should also have been on my list. A lot of social issues to take into concideration there.

  • Isn't Asimov still required reading for all Computer Scientists?  If it isn’t then we really have to revamp the US’s CS program!  Another movie that comes to mind is Minority Report.  The computer interface in that movie is right up the Kinect alley.

  • SPOILER ALERT!

    As a computer science student, I really enjoyed cute geeky movies like Short Circuits and Batteries Not Included. They touched on some nice AI (and alien) concepts in a really light way. I, Robot is a must not only for Asimov's laws, but Will Smith is a cutie. I also really enjoyed Wall-E; Ashley, Malisa, and I argued about the feasibility of the ending based on what kind of memory Wall-E had. We ultimately decided the future has better, more permanent memory that lasts through a hard factory reset. Eagle Eye is another nifty AI movie that sparked some arguments at the end as to whether destroying the input/output device would destroy the entire machine.

    I've always thought of geeky movies as a great way to be entertained by that which I love and have some really fun, but sometimes implausible, discussions afterward.

  • Oh! And AI itself! Major ethics issues to talk about after that one!

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