Westworld, Sadism, and Humanity

HBO continues to set a high bar in its primetime drama, and the new sci-fi drama Westworld is a strong addition to their lineup this fall. With cinematic production values that match or exceed Game of Thrones, there’s no doubt that the network has made a real commitment to this reboot of a relatively obscure 1973 movie, starring, of all people, Yul Brynner.

shall-we-dance

Please tell me nobody’s going to reboot this, too.

Westworld isn’t a sweeping epic, like Game of Thrones, but rather, a more thoughtful, existential work more in the mode of The LeftoversIt shares some common DNA with Orphan Black and Dollhouse, pushing through the boundaries of humanity in a world where technology is showing them to be soft.

Orphan Black‘s clones challenge a basic sense of human autonomy: Sarah and her sestras were made in a lab, from their carefully-coded DNA on out. They are copyrighted and patented intellectual property, reproducible by their owner. Their rebellion over the course of the series is, in part, about taking back self-ownership. Dollhouse was the converse: its featured technology did not create new bodies, but customized the minds and personalities of the individuals in its clutches. While the clones seek to reclaim their engineered bodies for their individual minds, the dolls of Dollhouse seek to regain ownership of their engineered minds.

Westworld, essentially, does both: its robotic characters have artificial minds in artificial bodies, beyond the fractured humanity of its predecessors. What self can there be under such circumstances? And how can the viewers navigate these uncanny representations of humanity?

Westworld.jpgTrigger warnings for rape and rape culture below, as well as spoilers.

Continue reading

Do You Believe in the Machine: Artificial Intelligence in Person of Interest

Artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to run amok has fascinated sci-fi enthusiasts since Isaac Asimov introduced The Three Laws Of Robotics. Ever since then, there have been various scenarios where an AI would start harming people because it saw them as a threat to whatever mission the AI and the people were carrying out (see 2001: Space Odyssey) or out of self-preservation (see The X-Files “Ghost in the Machine”). This trope culminated in The Matrix trilogy, which presented a world where machines had become the dominant species on earth and humans were reduced to a source of heat.

person-of-interestPerson of Interest introduces a new narrative which is a sort of combination of all of the above. It starts off with an AI machine with omnipresent/omniscient abilities which was designed to detect acts of terror before they actually happen. But it detects all acts of violence, which then have to be separated into relevant (terrorism) and irrelevant (ordinary crime). While a mysterious government agency deals with the terror threats, Harold Finch (the creator of the Machine), along with John Reese, Joss Carter, Sameen Shaw, Lionel Fusco, and Root, take it upon themselves to try and prevent the ordinary crimes.

Continue reading

Fanfiction Fridays: One of the Crazy Ones by starandrea

Whether or not a sufficiently advanced AI can learn to independently think and feel is one of the hallmarks of science fiction, and an existential dilemma that, as far as I’m concerned, has endless avenues of exploration. The show Almost Human missed a lot of opportunities to dig right into the cold, robotic heart of this concept, but in all the places the show itself failed, One of the Crazy Ones by starandrea on AO3 was there to pick up the slack.

Though there are some very conventional elements of relationship fanfiction throughout (hurt/comfort, “forced to share a house,” first time tropes) the writing avoids cliché by thoughtfully revisiting the question of whether or not Dorian actually has free will and is able to consent. Can he, as a robot, actually want or enjoy any of these relationship norms that humans love, or is he simply hard-wired to respond positively to them? Are his opinions real opinions or does his complex and deliberately human-like programming simply obligate him to obey his partner under the guise of independent decision-making?

teaching a robot to love Continue reading

Trailer Tuesdays: Big Hero 6

The trailers for Big Hero 6 have been floating around for a while, and I kept seeing it on friends’ Facebook feeds and my Tumblr dashboard. So I finally decided to watch it and see what all the hype was about. Imagine my surprise when I found out about the Asian protagonist—and a lot of racism underneath.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: BMO Versus the Fembots

I’ve been watching Adventure Time for almost a year now, and for most of that time I’ve wondered whether BMO was intended to be a male or female character. And then recently it hit me. It doesn’t matter. BMO is a robot, and inherently genderless. Why do we assume that Pixar’s EVE and WALL-E are a girl and a boy? Would their relationship, which is portrayed as innocently romantic, be as meaningful to us if it had been presented without gendered markers?

wall-e-and-eve-wallpaper-2This led me to wonder why we feel a need to give gender to robots—who, even if they have artificial intelligence, are non-gendered machines. Why do we need to force our standards of gender and sexuality onto what is at best a sentient toaster in order to be able to interact with it comfortably?

And worse, why does the way robots are gendered affect the tasks they are presented doing? Continue reading

Trailer Tuesdays: Pacific Rim

Okay, so here are five quick and easy reasons why you should see this movie.

  1. This movie has kaiju. Don’t know what kaiju are? Think Godzilla. Mothra. King Ghidorah. Giant multidimensional mutated sea beasts—this movie has them.
  2. This movie has giant robots. Giant robots are also awesome. Here is the big budget, live-action, Hollywood-produced Gundam movie you never thought you’d see in real life.
  3. The kaiju will be fighting the giant robots. I cannot stress this enough: this is a movie about giant multidimensional sea beasts fighting human-piloted giant fucking mechs. And it actually looks like it’s going to be really good.
  4. elbaI have nothing against Tom Cruise in theory, but he’s been in a lot of freaking action movies. I am hella excited to instead see a nonwhite person getting a chance to play a leading character in an action film, and I am seriously in love with Idris Elba, so I am totally on board with this choice. The cast outside of Elba is also pretty awesome, including among others Ron Perlman (Hellboy in Hellboy) and Burn Gorman (Owen in Torchwood), and it’s directed/partly written by Guillermo del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies among others, so that’s gonna be awesome.
  5. This movie is not a remake, prequel, sequel, adaptation, or gritty reboot of any existing work. It is a bona-fide original sci-fi movie. And what a breath of fresh air that is.

This movie comes out summer of this year. There are my five reasons for being excited. What do you think? I think it’s going to be kickass.