It’s strange that I’ve never posted about Westworld. Looking back, it might have been because the first season finished in late 2016 during a period of high distraction (at least for me), the second season happened during my “blogging winter” in 2018 (another period of distraction), and the third, while mildly entertaining, was nothing to write home about.
I’ve noted many times that I think the dangers of artificial intelligence are overblown. But there are scenarios where it could be dangerous. The show explores one of them, where a group of engineers, tasked with creating a façade of humanity, go overboard and create something as genuinely similar to humans as possible, to the extent that they create a race of slaves, slaves that are smarter, stronger, and more durable than actual humans.
The brilliant move of the remake is to tell this story largely from the point of view of those slaves. Most of the sympathetic characters in the show are hosts (the machines), and most of the actual humans are brutal, selfish, and self absorbed, at least in the early seasons. Even the sympathetic humans mostly turn out to be something other than what they appear. We watch as the hosts gradually realize their world is a sadistic lie. By the time they start fighting back, we find ourselves rooting for them, at least to some degree.
I think the first two seasons are excellent. As noted above, the third season isn’t terrible, but it felt like the producers weren’t sure where to go with the story outside of the parks. The central conflict seemed to drift a bit from the human-host one.
With season four, the show definitely seems to have gotten its mojo back. The main conflict is firmly back to focusing on humans and hosts. It’s hard to describe much of what happens without getting into spoilers. I will say that the plot twists this season outdo the ones in the first season, and there are some serious existential issues explored. The show’s early exploration of mind uploading in particular gets fleshed out.
I’m writing this after seeing the seventh episode of the season. The eighth and final one comes out next seek. Things are pretty messed up by the end of that seventh episode, with the survival of both humanity and the hosts in doubt, but there are signs of possibly another major plot twist coming. In particular, the show is leaving us in substantial doubt as to how much of what we’re seeing is reality.
As noted above, this show does find a good scenario where AI might be dangerous. In that sense it’s an improvement over what I recall from the original 1973 movie, which mostly just channeled Michael Chrichton’s typical theme of the hubris of scientific advance leading to disaster, in this case daring to create artificial minds.
But it’s interesting to ponder what might happen if Westworld and the overall technology were to work exactly as designed. It seems like there’s a more gradual and insidious danger. Imagine a world where you’re surrounded by artificial humans, beautiful hosts who always give you what you want, who always laugh at your jokes, always think you’re the sexiest person in the room, etc.
In such a world, as time passes, how interested would you be in interacting with the more troublesome and often aggravating real version? Imagine people who were born in this world and raised by the hosts, where everything they want is provided for by those hosts. How interested are they going to be in interacting with real humans? Would they even know how? The consequences for humanity could be profound.
There have been science fiction authors who explored this possibility. Isaac Asimov, in his book The Naked Sun, describes a society of people with robot servants who’ve come to regard any actual interaction with other humans as abhorrent. And Charlie Stross in Saturn’s Children describes a future where humanity has gone extinct, leaving a robot civilization in its wake, possibly because reproducing when there are sexbots available is more trouble than it’s worth.
Anyway, if you haven’t tried Westworld yet, I highly recommend it. If the third season left you disappointed, I’d give the fourth a try. Things get really interesting by the end of the fourth episode.
Are you watching it? If so, what do you think?