At a time when our society is constantly expanding and changing, questions are being asked about the speed of our technological advances. In the latest Channel 4 drama Humans, which concluded last Sunday, the exploration of the ultimate technological breakthrough – artificial intelligence – is investigated in a way which addresses the advantages and disadvantages of introducing robotic appliances into our everyday lives.
For the first half of the series, through the troubled Hawkins family, we see different attitudes to Anita’s role in their family life. Sophie has a ‘human’ relationship with Anita, Joe sees the synthetics as nothing more than obedient robots (at least, at first) and Laura struggles to understand Anita, fearing that some of her familial roles have been made redundant thanks to the robot.
Then, throughout the series, the relationship between Joe and Laura crumbles as they realise that they both have different views on synthetic appliances. But in fact, synths are nothing more than obedient ‘voids’ which we all assign different meanings to. Whilst George has a friendly relationship with Odi, Pete’s suspicious of his wife’s robotic physiotherapist, Simon. Even in numerous interviews before the show’s launch, the actors explained that it is up to the viewers to determine how much of a threat artificial intelligence and robots are to humanity, and which ‘side’ people take.
But as well as the human characters assigning different opinions to the synths, they all react differently to the task of understanding how the synthetics work. For example, people like Mattie only understood the robots as lines of computer code at first, whilst Laura was desperate to find out more about Anita’s thought processes. As for the characters who initially fear the synths, one of the possible reasons for this is the fact that the robots allow the humans to understand themselves more. With the introduction of a ‘species’ which are outside the human race and treated as servants, they try to understand the complexity of human nature. At one point, Karen/Beatrice even explains that to give consciousness to other synthetics would lead to ‘suffering’. Although, whilst the synths learn more about humans, this often leads to a ‘mirror’ effect, as the humans begin to learn more about themselves. For some characters, the idea of robots defining something as extraordinary, complex and mysterious as human nature itself is terrifying. Whilst some of us would love to explore humanity, others would rather live their lives without contemplating deep topics such as the definition of human nature.
This brings me on to the introduction of the We Are People movement which we see towards the end of the series. Upon seeing and listening to their speeches as seen on the show, it’s clear that their fear of artificial intelligence comes down to three main reasons: being unable to understand robots (comprehension), losing our roles as humans (redundancy) and the idea that they will take over the world (uprising).