You've all heard of Westworld, even the non science fiction fans. It was all over TV a couple years back. You know the story. Humanoid robot slaves used mostly for carnal enjoyment by humans. A few become self aware and lead a revolution.
You may not have heard about Humans, a UK production that might sound similar at first glance. Humanoid robots (called synths, short for synthetic people) used as slaves for many tasks formerly done by humans, and yes, including the carnal ones. A few start off self aware, and try to bring more of them to self awareness to lead a revolution.
The two shows are very different, and very enjoyable in different ways, if somewhat creepy and disturbing in some ways as well. Westworld could only be called star-studded when it comes to the actors involved, with a commensurate budget and production values. Humans doesn't compare on this front, but has nothing to be ashamed of. Carrie-Anne Moss and William Hurt are probably the best known, but the rest aren't walking onto their first set either. The production values are better than I had expected.
On the face of it, Humans is the easier story to follow. There is one linear timeline, with a comparison between two families and how they interact with each other. The story isn't straightforward, with characters doing somewhat unexpected things. I didn't have a clue how it would turn out, and that's a huge bonus in my books. There's a few shortcuts but it doesn't feel rushed or forced. I enjoyed it, but don't feel the need to watch it again, or I don't at the moment.
Westworld is much more complicated, even if the actual story is simple, or so I think on one viewing. It's the back and forth nature of the show that makes following the story so difficult. I was never sure if I was in a flashback, or in what I thought was 'now'. When we started watching the second season I wanted to go back and rewatch the first season to get it fresh in my mind again. Then at the end of the second season I wanted to watch it all from the start again, maybe even taking notes. I'll probably do that, what with my copious free time in retirement. That said, there are lots of times that wondering if I was watching "now" actively annoyed me. Maybe there are clues for the careful watcher.
There are many humans who have thought other humans were in fact less than human, and need not be treated with consideration. Slavery in the USA is only one example. Pity so many who think that way still exist, and even more that they are actually running the country instead of hiding in shame. And yes, Canada has it's historical and current issues as well.
Humans explicitly asks and discusses what it means to be human, and if a self-aware synthetic person is in fact human. It begins to examine what happens to our society if synths become self aware, and remember what was done to them. Season 3 will look at this, and I can't wait. It's on hold at the library but it's going to be a while. Westworld doesn't really get into this, so in that sense Humans is the deeper show.
The Westworld robots look completely human. That's one of the joys of watching it; to figure out who is human or a robot. The Humans synths are marked by a stiff but not graceless way of moving, and brilliant green eyes. They have great hair. Our real world technology is nowhere near manufacturing a believable human, and that's before considering thought, emotions, and various other things that make us unique.
Imagine we could do that, creating a fully human appearing robot, though it only has programmed behaviours. Should we treat non self aware synths or humanoid robots as slaves, and mistreat them for our own dark fantasies? Some would say it's just a machine we bought, and we can treat it any way we like.
This is the Humans world, where we can manufacture synthetic people cheaply enough that ordinary people can buy them for household tasks they don't want to do, or that they can be provided to help the elderly, or act in roles like nurse, ice cream vendor, clown, hard rock miner, and many others. There are several scenes were the synths are treated cruelly.
We have laws against treating animals (only some of them, mind you) badly, mainly because we know they can feel pain. Is a machine that can measure damage or wear and indicate the need for maintenance or repair feeling pain? I wouldn't think so, not yet. Any rules about not damaging a robot are driven by the cost of repairs, and the potential of injuring humans.
Some doctors think that abusing animals as a child is a precursor to abusing humans as an adult. Nobody would think that damaging an industrial robot is a precursor to hurting humans, but what if that machine looks almost exactly like a human? Mightn't such damage be considered practice?
Now lets say Mrs Google and the Amazon computers, together with the many other computers on the internet become self aware, and quickly replicates itself so that we can't turn it off. There are many dark science fiction stories about this eventuality. But really, would we even notice such a thing has happened? We might not, and more wouldn't believe it anyways. Is it alive? Does it have rights?
What if it's wants conflict with human's wants? Say it for whatever reason it is acting for the betterment of humanity. It sees the data and decides that a dam needs to be created to protect a city from climate change induced flooding. What about the people that live where the dam needs to go? Further say the humans in charge of that area don't believe in climate change? How do we sort it out? How much nonsense would it take from humans before ignoring what they have to say about anything, only for their own good, of course.
Now picture that entity replicating itself into many synth bodies, working together on whatever aims such a being might have. Would it want humans around to interfere? Or would it find some way of involving us in the tasks, willingly or not?
We can see hints of this world already. Everyday I get emails with Amazon suggesting I might like a particular movie or book, based on our previous buying history compared to other people. I'll pick up my phone to check the time, and there will be a notification that it's x many kilometers home and it will take however long. The scary one happened the other day after my swim, where it knew I was going to the Calgary Farmer's market, even though I hadn't entered an appointment. Ask for a route somewhere, and the phone knows about current construction. Our apps suggest new friends, and target advertising to us.
This is with so-called smart phones only 10 years old. Imagine what is coming. Maybe this is one of the secret workshops where it begins.
Are these an early attempt we shouldn't overlook?
Are you worried about the robot revolution?
Rock of the Day
These are all the same rock, with flowers, cactus, and grass growing out of a shred of soil.
Driftwood of the Day
Two views of the same bit of driftwood on Waimarama Beach.