Fictional Chatbot: KITT from Knight Rider

Last Updated on November 11, 2020 by Sean B

The original Knight Rider was one of the quintessential TV shows from the early to mid-1980’s. Yes, there were additional shows that came after it ended, including Team Knight Rider that ran from 1997-1998 and a revised Knight Rider that ran in 2008-2009, but we’re going to ignore those just like most of the American TV Viewers did.

So back to the original Knight Rider

The TV Show

Knight Rider was an NBC show that ran from 1982-1986 and followed the adventures of Michael Knight, played by David Friggin’ Hasselhoff, and if that isn’t his middle name, it should be. Anyway, as I was saying, the show followed the adventures of Knight and his Artificially Intelligent car KITT, a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a cool light embedded into the hood. KITT, voiced by William Daniels, was nearly indestructible because of a high-tech coating.

Every week, Michael and KITT would face off against some criminal gang who was trying to bully a good American into submission. Typically, the protagonists on the show ran some ethical business or community organization and the bad guys were trying to take over their land or turn one of their products into something evil.

A secret agency called the Foundation for Law and Government or FLAG, would request the assistance of the Knight Rider team. So instead of overwhelming bad guys against ethical but ineffective nice guys, you now added an AI Trans Am that couldn’t be hurt to the mix.

Game Over Man.

Anyway, the premise of the show is that a self-made billionaire, Wilton Knight, saved a police detective named Michael Arthur Long after he was shot in the face. The wound wasn’t fatal, but Knight and his team let the public believe it was and gave Detective Long a new identity as Michael Knight, after a good amount of plastic surgery to repair his horrible wounds that is.

Wilton Knight is also the force behind FLAG, which is run by Devon Miles, played by Edward Mulhare. Taking care of KITT is the job of Dr. Bonnie Barstow, played by Patricia McPherson, who was written out after the first season but came back for season 3 and remained with the show until the end. Barstow was replaced during the second season by April Curtis, played by Rebecca Holden, who had to go when Dr. Barstow came back.

KITT

As I mentioned above KITT, short for Knight Industries Two Thousand, was a Trans Am that was reinforced with a nearly indestructible frame and shell, thanks to the high-tech coating mentioned earlier. The vehicle also included a variety of additional high-tech features, like the Turbo, all controlled by an AI Computer that connected to a command center to supply additional information about their mission. KITT’s command center was in a Semi Truck that KITT would drive into and out of while the truck was moving. When I was 13, it was all very cool, and I was a big fan of the show.

Anyway, the show was basically a Buddy Cop show with KITT as one of the buddies, so you can imagine how much it appealed to kids. It was also set during a time when the Cold War was at it’s peak, so it was a great escape for adults as well.

The same car was used as KITT’s most dangerous nemesis, KARR or the Knight Automated Roving Robot. Basically, this was the 1980’s wen all you had to do to make an evil clone of your character was stick a bad mustache on the actor, for some reason this didn’t work so well with actresses or vehicles.

KITT is regularly included in the lists of the greatest cars in TV History, usually near the top.

What Did KITT Contribute?

Aside from being the height of cool for a short time, at least for pre-teen and teenage boys, KITT was a legitimate chatbot that if real, would have passed the Turing Test. Michael and KITT talked about everything, but when things got heavy, KITT was all business. He trusted Michael’s judgment and they listened to each other. When KITT suggested something, Michael listened. KITT was more than the hyper-intelligent companion to the star of the show, he was the second star.

This may not sound like much now, but at the time it was revolutionary. He was a car, that co-starred in his own show basically. The closest predecessor we have is possibly the Bat Mobile, but more likely the 1928 Porter from My Mother the Car from 1965… I know, strange that we’d have to back that far to find another talking car.

In Conclusion

Whether or not you believe KITT was cool is irrelevant, he was. But we’re not here to argue about that, KITT was more than an automated car run by an AI Supercomputer, he was a main character that interacted regularly with Michael and the rest of his team, and on occasion he even interacted with thieves trying to break in, telling them it wasn’t a good idea before sending them packing with an electric shock.

Today, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people about my age that have Alexa or other Virtual Assistants installed in their vehicles had changed the voice to match KITT’s. He was iconic, and yes, cool. He was also a chatbot in a car well before they existed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on KITT, was he a chatbot or not?

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