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Lord of the Rings terror: It was just a software bug

Massive software sets the record straight on what happened when humans met the battle mammoths.

For the past few years, a tale has been bandied about how the artificial intelligence used in the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings movies generated a real flight or fight response in animated characters.

To recap for a second, in the last installment of the trilogy, the Orcs come riding to battle and bring a troupe of elephant/mammoth-like creatures along with them. (Think of the car wash mammoths in the Flintstones but more terrifying.) The simulated human and humanoid characters were embedded with artificial intelligence from Massive Software, an AI developer out of New Zealand.

When the humans and soldiers saw the elephants, they ran in the other direction, an intelligent response. Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer told the anecdote in a speech at the RSA Conference in 2005, and I wrote about it here.

It turns out it was an exaggeration. The flight reaction--which really occurred--was a bug in the software, said Callum Thomas, a developer at Massive. "But it (simulated fear) makes a better story," he told me during a conversation at RoboDevelopment in San Jose, Calif., last week. Massive was there because it is working on Zeno, a humanoid robot coming from Hanson Robotics in 2009. It's very convincing AI software, by the way.

Massive fixed the bug and the battle began. So there you have it.