I’ve seen the TV show Devs come up in a number of conversations on social media, and several people recommended it. But it was JamesOfSeattle’s recommendation that finally got me to check it out. The result was, as usual for a show I really enjoy, a weekend binge.
As the show starts, we find Lily Chan and her boyfriend, Sergei, both working as software engineers at a company called Amaya. Amaya has cracked quantum computing, apparently the only company to do so, or at least to the extent it has.
The Amaya logo is an image of a little girl, whose picture is on company buses and various other locations. There is a gigantic statue of the girl on the company campus, with the effect of the girl’s figure towering over the buildings. (The look ends up being fairly creepy.)
Sergei’s team has a presentation with the company owner, Forrest, and Katie, the head of the company’s super secret project called “Devs.” Forrest looks like a burnout, but his demeanor is informal and down to earth.
The team presents a simulation of a c-elegans worm. Their simulation is able to completely predict the worm’s actions several seconds into the future. Forrest is impressed with their ability to accurately predict the behavior of a living organism. But when the simulation starts to diverge from the worm’s actual actions at 30 seconds, he asks Sergei to speculate what may be going wrong. Sergei’s response is that the issue could be sheer complexity, or it might be that the simulation works fully somewhere in the multiverse, just not in this universe.
Forrest replies that he is not a fan of the multiverse, and suggests that Sergei go with the first explanation. He then privately tells Sergei that he’d like him to transfer to the Devs project. Sergei is excited and accepts. However, when he sees the code and learns what the Devs project is actually about, he is first physically sick, then tries to steal some of the code, with horrible results.
Lily, a highly intelligent engineer in her own right who works in the encryption division, is left trying to figure out what happened when Sergei goes missing.
What follows is an exploration of free will, determinism, quantum mechanics, the simulation hypothesis, and many other concepts. Interpretations of quantum mechanics have an important role in the story. And we learn that Forrest is more than just “not just a fan” of the multiverse, he is adamantly opposed to it, for reasons that are deeply personal.
The show actually manages to make us care whether the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics or Everett’s many worlds interpretation is the right one. And before we’re done, we see someone play out the quantum suicide experiment.
It’s difficult to go into much more detail without getting into spoilers. Hopefully it’s clear that this is a pretty intelligent and philosophical show.
That said, a few cautions are in order. First, it has a fair amount of language and violence. Second, the show takes liberties with scientific accuracy. I think this tweet from Sean Carroll sums it up best.
Finally, the show ends up taking sides in the quantum interpretation debate. If you have strong feelings about that, it’s possible you won’t like the answer it lands on.
I’d also add that it has a very Stanley Kubrick sort of feel to it. Alex Garland, the writer, director, and executive producer, keeps the pace slow and deliberate. There are long stretches of time where not much happens except mood setting. But it ends up working.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t an ongoing series. It’s a limited miniseries. It has a definite ending. (Although I suppose someone could try to do a sequel.)
So, if you’re looking for something thoughtful and fun, albeit dark and tragic at times, it’s worth checking out.