The 1986 motion picture 'Short Circuit' featured a humanoid robot named Number 5 which "develops fondness for television and takes a liking to commercials." Steve Wilson and Brent Maddock wrote the script as a term project as part of a college extension screenwriting course at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). When 'Short Circuit' was first released, the movie was shown in 1310 American theaters, earning a total of $40,697,761 in gross.
After producers David Foster and Lawrence Turman formed with Tri-Star Pictures and PSO Presentations to make the picture, director John Badham enlisted the aid of visual futurist Syd Mead, robot expert Eric Allard and visual consultant Philip Harrison to create Number 5. Syd Mead recounted, "I think up visual futures or alternate realities for – in the case of feature films – movie directors. My original idea was to have it look like a very exotic state-of-the-art scanning system, which meant you had a lot of irises and exotic-looking and photographic lenses."
It was understood, "The number 5 is a characteristic of the man. First, according to the Cabal, it is the number of the perfect Man (got rid from his animal side). Symbol of the incarnated conscience - 4, Matter, + 1, Spirit. According to the Bible, it is the symbol of the Man-God by the 5 wounds of the Christ on cross (for this reason, it is also considered as the number of the grace). But it is also associated to the man in general (2 + 3) having an unstable character of duality, 2, in spite of his divinity, 3. The 5 is also found on the human body: the 5 fingers of the hand and feet, the 5 senses (touch, taste, sense of smell, hearing and the sight), the 5 members (2 arms, 2 legs and the head, the bust being the center), the 5 bones forming the metacarpus, the metatarse and the brain-pan, etc."
From the outset, John Badham told the actors, "I want you to take your patience pills every morning. He's (Number 5) going to malfunction, no doubt about it. Some days he’s going to be as difficult as stars you may have heard about who can't perform until they get the right perfume from Beverly Hills. Fortunately, Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens are total professionals even though they're young. They understood the problem and were totally patient, Ally especially. She had the most work to do with Number 5, and when things went wrong, she just waited. She totally believed in Number 5, and it shows on the screen."
Number 5 had an "extreme curiosity" with "a very charming reaction, a naïve reaction with vast intelligence that was sort of untrained in a new format, which was the world outside. Here we have this absolutely lethal machine looking at butterflies and scanning books at lightning speed and repeating television commercials with the proper voice emphasis. That's funny. That's humorous."
Of the script, John acknowledged, "It's hard to get a feeling from a cold bunch of paper, but the script had a good feel to it. I read it one evening and was hooked immediately. I got up the next morning at 6, read it again, and at 8 I started making calls to set the deal." Syd elaborated, "It is usually a bigger problem to design for feature films than for industry. A major corporation that makes camera will say, 'We are going to change what cameras look like.' With their research department and my involvement, we do change what cameras look like. They then have to spend a lot of money to educate the public to believe that it is, indeed, a camera."
One critic remarked, "Badham keeps the plot moving so fast that you don’t have time to notice how far from reality it all is. Neither the robot nor the human characters ever behave like believable people." John made the observation at the time, "It's terribly hard to predict how a movie will do at the box office. Only people like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg seem to have this uncanny knack for accurately forecasting audience response." On reflection, "Directing a film is physically hard work. It's the most irritating, exhausting thing you can do. If you don't like the script that makes it doubly hard. I think the story stands on it own. I would compare it more to 'Black Beauty', 'Lassie', along the lines of a-boy-and-his-dog or a girl-and-her-horse movies."
At the time of the movie, Donald Dillaby of 'The Sunday Telegraph' in Nashua and Southern New Hampshire told readers, "Artificial intelligence, AI, as it is known in the electronics and computer industry, is no longer the pipe dream of some 'cloud 9' scientist. It is here now (in 1986), helping in a variety of ways in the home, on the road and in the workplace."
At the time Digital Equipment Corp. was selling AI to "assist in solving problems." Joel Magid of Digital Equipment Corp. believed AI "is an extension of computer science. It is not the pie-in-the-sky panacea that will solve all problems but AI is here to stay." However Donald stressed, "What AI is not is machinery that is going to think for human beings." Joel explained, "That is the area people talk about – having machines think for us, but I don't think you will ever see that." Joel also made the forecast, "At some point in time we will see a vehicle in the Army that can maneuver around obstacles, and planes in the Air force flown without pilots. You will be able to speak to a computer in your language, not the complex languages of the computer. The biggest thing executives like to do is to talk to machines and have them understand what they are saying. It's not the esoteric science a lot of people are touting it to be. It's here to stay, it's now (in 1986) economically feasible."