In the film Oblivion, why would the Tet Station bother using

human clones

at all as part of their operational scheme?

Obviously it is a pretty sophisticated AI. You'd think it could just deploy AI on the ground as well, build it right into the drones. That seems like less effort than

cloning thousands of Jacks and Vikas,

and far less risky.

Kack and Vika from Oblivion

Does the comic book explain this better than the movie did? (Update: Someone pointed out that there is no comic book / graphic novel. Bummer)

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    For the record, there was never a graphic novel and possibly never will be; bleedingcool.com/2013/04/12/… – Valorum Jan 4 '14 at 18:59
  • @Richard wow, no graphic novel, bummer. As much as this movie sucked, I actually felt like the story could have worked better in a written form, to have more room to explain some of the apparent holes. – zipquincy Jan 6 '14 at 15:51
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    “Why bother with humans at all?” A question I ask myself every day. – Paul D. Waite Jan 6 '14 at 17:29
  • "Obviously it is a pretty sophisticated AI. You'd think it could just deploy AI on the ground as well" Stop right there. Our brains are pretty sophisticated but that doesn't magically mean we are capable of creating artificial brains that are just as sophisticated. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 22 '14 at 23:09
  • @zipquincy - Given that you now have several answers to this (including a Director quote) it might be worthwhile offering an acceptance. Alternatively, you might want to add some comments explaining why you don't feel that the answers meet your expectations. – Valorum Feb 9 '15 at 14:02

There are no answers in canon (since no canon exists as far as I know), but we can speculate starting from what we know.

While the alien AI did seem very powerful, it did seem to have some limitations. Let's look at the only completely manufactured automated units that it produces: the drones. While they are marvels of engineering they are still quite limited. They are not intelligent (they are constantly being defeated by trickery), they cannot repair themselves, and they are quite cumbersome and cannot go into the same spaces that humans can. So if that is the best the AI can come up with it might have had a harder time conquering Earth with them alone.

Now look at the clones. They are smart, resourceful, adapt quickly to different situations, and can effectively fight other humans in their own turf. In short, they are the perfect weapons to subjugate Earth.

The process of creating the clones itself indicates how limited the AI is. Each clone seems to retain past memories even after the brain washing, which could indicate that the process isn't true biological cloning (as we understand it), but more of a complete copying mechanism.

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  • I like this answer because even if speculative, it makes sense given the evidence. Further evidence that the AI is flawed is that it completely misunderstands Jack & Vika's relationship, which ends up being a serious flaw in their working together "as an effective team". A mere photograph is enough to convince the Tet these two are a couple. More speculation: the Tet is an advanced weapon pre-programmed to conquer worlds by cloning its sentient population. The clumsy drones are its only other resource. – Andres F. Jan 7 '14 at 16:57

The Tet was big, and it is possible that either the physical size of the AI, or its power requirements, made it impractical to install in the drones.

Perhaps it could remote pilot them, but maybe the delay in communications made them less accurate and effective at their primary killing role.

Further, while it might have been able to remote pilot 1, 5 or ten, does not mean it could control at least 200. I pulled the number out of the air, but given the 1000s of clones seen in the Tet, and the '5 year life span' implies at least 200 actively working Jacks and Vickas. I think 200 is a conservative estimate.

Beserker probe

Actually, perhaps I have been thinking too much on this, but the entire movie makes a whole lot more (chilling) sense if we presume that it is actually a Berserker probe.

Let's consider what the priorities of such a probe might be. In order, I'd argue that it would be most effective as:

  1. Replicate self at greater rate than destroyed.
  2. Maintain/preserve self structure.
  3. When meeting another, share information on lessons learned.
  4. Ensure own technology does not fall into the hands of technological life forms.
  5. Scan universe for radio signals or evidence of technological life forms.
  6. Steal whatever technology is developed by technological life forms that might be useful in defeating them.
  7. Kill all life-forms that are technological.
  8. Scan universe for planets that contain atmospheres indicating non-technological life.
  9. Kill all simple life forms.

What we're seeing in Oblivion, is the Berserker implementing point 7 (kill technological life forms).

It does not intend to simply decimate the planet using nuclear weapons, given when it arrived, it had no clear evidence we possessed them. If it uses a neutron (or hydrogen, or conventional nuclear) bomb against us, and (for whatever reason) one of the bombs fails to detonate, we might quickly work out how to make our own, and cause problems for it.

That would violate point 4 (keep own tech.), which will then possibly violate point 2 (preserve self).

It might have gained the ability to replicate life forms based on point 6 (steal technology) after encountering a previous technological life form.

It does not intend to risk the life form making an anti-Tet, so it needs to remain 'out of reach', in orbit).

But the simple probes it sends down are not quite up to the task of self repair (dumbed down tech.), another tech. that it does not risk sharing.

This could explain why the Drones are relatively simple, with no inbuilt A.I.

So the plan for Earth is: Wait till the technological species comes to space. Bait them and capture them. Replicate them into a clone army that wipes out most of the inhabitants.

Once you have them reduced them to only a few percent left, with their technology and production facilities largely in ruins, then risk sending in the simple drones, using clones to repair and maintain them. The 'we need resources' story is actually partly a cover story to firstly convince the clones they need to keep the drones in action, but it also helps to reduce life in general, and make it ever more difficult for the remain technological life-forms to survive.

The last few people might retreat to ..the bottoms of salt mines, or other very secure facilities where they can survive a nuclear bomb, so even then it does not nuke the planet for fear of losing that technology to them. Instead it runs ..4 or 5 generations of Jacks and Vickas to make sure no more were hiding in deep, dark places while it continues to drain resources, putting further pressure on all life forms.

Once it has run those several generations (heck, it's effectively eternal, so it could do that for a thousand years) and is absolutely convinced there are no technological life-forms left, it calls the remaining clones back to the Tet and destroys the last of them.

Then it drains whatever remains of the ocean to ensure all deep sea creatures are accounted for and nukes the planet into 'Oblivion' (pun fully intended).

Of course, during the 'destroy technological life form' phase it is also pulling resource from which it can maintain itself and replicate itself.

So if that's the case, why didn't the Scavs see two Tets, then three, then..?

Again, it is patient. And there is nothing to say that it isn't making them. All it needs to do is make them in the outer Solar system, way from our prying eyes. There actually might be two more Tets already completed, both checking for a 'daily update' from the one in Earth orbit. If they don't get it at the required time, ..send in the next Tet, while the last concentrates on ..making another!

Of course, it does kind of mean that the Human victory was only very temporary. Ooh, a chill just ran down my spine.

But wait, you say. Weren't the resources almost depleted? How would the Tet maintain the cover story to keep the clones going?

I argue that was a complete lie. Most of the land had been laid to waste, giving the impression that the resources were almost depleted. But Jack and Vicka only patrolled a small area that included both New York and was close to the remaining ocean. If the oceans had been almost drained, they'd be stationed close to the Marianas Trench.

But.. couldn't Beacham have discovered a book on geography in his travels, and worked out that there were still plenty of ocean left? Not necessarily. Books seemed scarce, and even if he discovered an atlas, it might have been damaged, with the front pages (which would quickly establish the length of an inch, and the number of inches in a mile) missing. He didn't easily have a way to translate the scales expressed in them. *"Is a 'mile' two steps, three..?" So he might have presumed the Earth was much smaller, and the oceans much closer to being drained than they actually were.

Also, it was very difficult for the Scavs to move around without getting blasted by a drone, so 'stepping out' the distance between two places identified in the atlas would have been impractical.

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  • I think it's important to remember that we're using the word "clone" here loosely. It's unlikely that the clones were cultured and developed from infants on up to grown adults (that would take decades anyway). So they're duplicating these people, and duplicating them with memories intact doesn't seem far-fetched. Even attempting to erase memories and failing to do so completely seems reasonable, given that they'd want to do so without impairing neurological function. – John O Jan 4 '14 at 20:12
  • @JohnO After some reflection, I have not only reversed my decision of the other night to delete this, but have decided to dole out the questions, 3 a week, over the next 7 weeks. I will award the tick to whoever supplies the most plausible/best answer. Could you upgrade your comment to an answer to How did Jack get his memories?? I'd much appreciate it.. – Andrew Thompson Jan 10 '14 at 11:06
  • If you post a question, I'd be happy to explain in detail. The movie actually gives us enough to work with, that speculation would be kept to a minimum. – John O Jan 10 '14 at 17:15
  • See the edit. I have developed an alternate theory that makes a lot more of the odd aspects of the movie into a ..chilling kind of sense. – Andrew Thompson Jan 10 '14 at 17:32
  • @JohnO "How did Jack get his memories?" above, is a link to that question! Also note I went off on a wild tangent on this answer and added the 'Berserker theory'. Thought you might get a laugh or two from some of my out-there reasoning.. – Andrew Thompson Jan 10 '14 at 17:40

The film's Writer/Director; Joseph Kosinski has specifically addressed this question in an interview with CinemaBlend. In short, the Tet aliens value our ingenuity and the benefits this brings in terms of efficiency (in killing all remaining humans):

CB : So, why does the Tet use human beings?

Kosinski : Well there's a little clue when Jack goes to the stadium, the drone 166 has been shot down and the fuel cell has been taken and its been damaged. Vica says to Jack, "The whole central core is off alignment, you don't have the necessary tools down there." And Jack uses a piece of chewing gum to glue a piece back in place so that it works. That is an example of something that only a human can do. That level of ingenuity, that level of improvisation is something that we are very good at. The Tet realizes that we are very useful at thinking on our feet and on the fly. That's why humans make great drone repairman. What the Tet didn't realize is that same level of ingenuity and what it is that makes us special ultimately leads to us getting the idea that maybe there's a way to take down the system.

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out of universe there would be no movie

in universe the AI may not have the ability to program other AIs or if it does have the ability does not wish to use it since creating another AI may create a competitor

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  • 1
    This just seems like guesswork. We know that the TET can build and control semi-autonomous floating androids and has, on occasion built entire armies of Jacks. – Valorum Jan 5 '14 at 16:59
  • theres a difference between semi autonomous and actual AI and creating a bunch of clones once the technology is available would be much simpler than programming the answer is surmise but its valid with what information is available – severa Jan 5 '14 at 20:17
  • I'm not sure you can reach all the way to "another AI may create a competitor" from what's in the film. There's nothing to suggest that whatsoever. Also, how do you know that programming an AI is easier than cloning a human? Programming requires computers whereas cloning just needs precision engineering and plumbing. – Valorum Jan 5 '14 at 20:27
  • creating another lifeform always has the potential to create a competitor, I said cloning is easier than programming because cloning can be assembly lined while programming cant – severa Jan 6 '14 at 7:21

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