AMC’s New Hit Show, Humans is the latest in the line of Sci-Fi programming, a genre that has seen a resurgence in Television and on the big screen. It takes place in an alternate-present world where androids, referred to as Synths, are commonplace among society and function as personal assistants to anyone who can afford one.
The show has been adapted from Real Humans, a Swedish hit, and has been co-produced by AMC and UK’s Channel 4. The story centers around the Hawkins family, which has just acquired its first Synth. Each member of the family represents different perspective regarding the concept of artificial intelligence. The dad is a classic early adopter eager to get his hands on the latest gadget, focused on the practical benefits of having a Synth to do chores so that his family can have more free time together. The mother is concerned about how its presence may affect the perceptions of her children and how it will impact her role as wife/mother. Their eldest daughter, a teenager in a period of self-discovery, ponders the deeper question about how this new technology will impact society, innovation and ambition. The son exposes, somewhat comedically, the potential for the immature to abuse this new technology. Finally, the youngest daughter can be said to represent the new generation, who will grow up with this technology and accept it as the status quo.
As we observe these various perspectives, the show introduces deeper ethical questions about emerging sentience, the treatment of Synths and whether they should be afforded the same rights as human beings, and whether artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity.
The Synths are required to obey human commands and are prevented from harming humans as a consequence of the Asimov-ic programming they contain. This refers to the famous sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, who introduced a set of 3 laws that would, in theory, ensure the safety of the human race against androids. The concept of the ’Singularity’ is then introduced, which refers to the point at which sentience will emerge out of artificial intelligence. In other words, when androids like the Synths become self-aware and begin to exert their own free will. This raises the specter of how these new beings will interpret their treatment by humans and if they would seek to displace us as the new rulers of the world.
Such a situation would mean that the Robots no longer need the humans and could run the world by themselves. This superior race of androids could very well decide that human beings are no longer essential to the earth or, worse yet, seen as threats to their survival and the environment. Then what?
Elon Musk, resident genius of planet Earth, has publicly spoken out against the development of Artificial intelligence that could threaten our primary position on Earth. While achieving the singularity may sound farfetched right now, the exponential progress of technology will inevitably require society to face this issue.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Synths are quite happy co-existing with the humans. How would our society have to adapt to their presence? Industries around the world are constantly automating work and displacing thousands if not millions of skilled labor from the employment market. In a world full of highly advanced androids, you might wonder if humans would simply become obsolete in the workforce. Consequently, how would our economy have to change when no one could receive a wage in exchange for their labor? Would humans cease their pursuit of innovation and retreat to a meaningless existence?
One possibility is that civilization will shift to a resource based society, where currency has no meaning and the main priority will be the effective management of the planet’s resources to provide for the health and happiness of its population. Without money, the very concept of ownership will be obsolete. Instead, technology and automation would remove scarcity from the equation and allow everyone to enjoy a life without hardship and seek meaning apart from labor.
The world of Humans always has an undercurrent of tension to it. The humans in the show are unsure of what they should do, how they should feel and where the line should be drawn. It is a world teetering on the edge and that is what makes it riveting. As we continue to march towards the ‘singularity’ in our own world, the resonance to the show will become even stronger.