June 28, 2015

Our television experience has been enhanced in what many of us are calling the golden age of television with the aid of Nordic Noir and the BBC. In recent times, Americans have wrapped their arms around such stalwart British hits like Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Luther, Broadchurch, The Fall, and many more with the help of PBS, BBC America and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon prime and Hulu. Starz, a premium cable network recently partnered up the BBC and ran an eight part series called The Missing, (I reviewed it here) which was hugely successful so I'm happy to say that AMC has partnered with Britain's Channel 4 and they've collaborated on an excellent A.I., sci-fi series called "Humans," debuting tonight on AMC.

I've already seen the first two episodes and they are terrific

AMC’s new show Humans underlines the simple fact that most people will get no say in whether the robots arrive, just as it’s always been with socially transformative technology. In its version of the present day, fake humans programmed to take orders from real ones have recently come to act as family maids, elderly caretakers, physical therapists, manual laborers, and prostitutes. Why? “The best reason to make machines more like people is to make people less like machines,” a TV talking head explains towards the end of the pilot. “The woman in China who works 11 hours a day, stitching footballs; the boy in Bangladesh inhaling poison as he breaks up a ship for scrap; the miner in Bolivia risking death every time he goes to work—they can all be part of the past.” The immediately apparent irony is that those words are being taken in by a middle-class English family whose newly bought “synth,” Anita, is cooking dinner in the other room. Dad rifles through the instructional literature that came with it—her?—and lingers on an “Adult Options, 18+” pamphlet.

With its small-bore, domestic focus, Humans has the potential to stand out in the supersaturated genre of A.I. fiction, which tends to consist—just to use the previously mentioned examples from 2015—of ethical ruminations on the soul, as in Ex Machina, or disaster/horror fantasies about being overtaken by our creations, as in Age of Ultron.

It’s not that those ingredients aren’t in here: One plotline follows a group of synths who’ve somehow gained true consciousness and are trying to escape captivity, while the Anita narrative is plenty creepy thanks to fears of possibly sinister bot behavior that play on the same maternal anxieties as, say, A Deadly Adoption. What’s different is that as a serialized television show (a co-production with Britain’s Channel 4 and Kudos), Humans can run a greater number of thought experiments, and for longer, than a film or an episode of Twilight Zone or Black Mirror can.

Humans is a remake of the Swedish series called Real Humans, and I've just watched the first episode of that series and it's magnificent too.

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