Alden Ehrenreich explores a Brave New World. When I first read Aldous Huxley's famous 1932 novel Brave New World, I expected something fusty and old-fashioned. I wasn't prepared for how scathingly direct or unsettlingly dark it was, and still is today. It certainly adds a dash of cursing, a touch of violence, some Radiohead and a load of people getting their kit off. But it lacks a certain directness. The Handmaid's Tale is about sexism.
I'm not what you would call a fan of Westworld. As an AI reporter, telling this to people often triggers an audible gasp, followed by a look of disbelief and disappointment. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the show, I plan to watch every episode of season two, which starts Sunday on HBO, and developers should too. Earlier this week, I attended a showing of episode one in San Francisco and had an opportunity to chat with members of the cast. I took the interviews because I wanted to know how people playing parts in a show that shapes the world's perception of AI felt about the impact of AI.
Less than two weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration, many of us are still having a hard time understanding the story of what just happened to America. It is, after all, a supremely improbable tale. A reality-TV personality with no political experience and a string of bankruptcies on his resume built, in the space of a year, a racist cult represented by a frog? But the notion that this same cult leader was elected president with the help of Russian hackers, rogue FBI agents and an online army of bots and fake-news writers? There was a time this outlandish plot might have been considered a poor mashup of Hunter S. Thompson and George R.R. Martin, and laughed off the shelves at your local Barnes & Noble.
One of many hats that neuroscientist David Eagleman wears in real life is science advisor for HBO's science fiction show "Westworld." The show takes place in a futuristic theme park staffed by robotic hosts who seemingly exist only to fulfill the dark and violent fantasies of wealthy human guests who want to indulge adventure and vice in a Western-style playground for adults. But as the show hints from the very first episode, the robotic hosts are not necessarily content to remain subservient human playthings for too much longer. During season one of "Westworld," Eagleman took a break from his work as adjunct professor in the department of psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Stanford University to visit the show's writers and producers in Los Angeles and have an intense brainstorming session about the meaning of consciousness and the possibilities of artificial intelligence. As season two rolls toward its conclusion, Eagleman got on the phone to help separate the show's science fiction from science fact--and to talk about some intriguing real-world questions that may not have answers just yet.
As the deviously puzzling first half of HBO's "Westworld" has unfolded, sleuths on fan sites and reddit threads have spun elaborate theories about what is really going on in the futuristic, Wild West-themed amusement park of the title. We know that the park is an adult playground where human "guests" can carry out their most sadistic fantasies on the bodies of the grounds' life-like robot "hosts." We know that each day, after being raped, murdered, and otherwise violated for the pleasures of their guests, the robots are refurbished by Westworld staff, their memories wiped clean--but that, by a glitch in the system (or by some secret design), hosts like the obedient and good-hearted Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and the sharp-tongued bordello owner Maeve (Thandie Newton) are beginning to piece together their traumatic pasts. But there are so many essential things that we don't yet understand. Who was Arnold, the park's mysterious co-creator, who died somewhere within Westworld's borders and whose ghost seems to be haunting his android creations?