Almost Human Rises Above Its Formula

almost human1When describing Fox’s new TV show Almost Human as cop buddy show with sci-fi trappings, it can cause eyes to roll. It sounds like your typical formulaic cop buddy show with a supposedly clever twist; this time one of the cops is an android. But that has been done before. Case in mind, there’s that moronic comedy Holmes & Yo-Yo with John Schuck as the bumbling android turned detective.

Almost Human, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. Of course, in the end it’s just another cop show in this TV wasteland littered with cop shows, and it does have elements of the too-common procedural motif. However, Almost Human is very inventive, the scripts are well written and most episodes are quite entertaining with a gritty and realistic tone. It’s never dull or routine and that is because the producers (including show creator J.H. Wyman and  executive producer J.J. Abrams) run with the concept.

In the 2040s, crime is getting way out of control. almost human forensicsCriminals are using more and more high tech to commit crimes. For example, in one episode criminals wore devices around their necks that blotted out their faces on TV cameras so they couldn’t be identified. In another one, this murderer used clones of himself to carry out his work. To combat this, the police force in an unnamed city use androids to supplement their numbers. In the pilot episode, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) was severely injured and lost a leg. After returning to work with a new bionic leg, he is forced by his commander (nicely played by Lily Taylor) to partner up with a standard android cop. But Kennex has an aversion to working with the emotionless automaton and decides to reactivate an older android model from a discontinued DRN series to help him on a case. Nicknamed Dorian (Michael Ealy), the android sports software that allows him to emulate emotions and as a result has a personality.

almost human drnAfter they solve the case in the pilot, Kennex decides to keep Dorian as a partner, even though he finds the android irritating. Naturally as par for the course with these cop shows, Kennex softens his attitude towards Dorian. So the two of them cruise the dangerous streets of their city, solve crimes and get into heated debates about lots of topics. Those range from Kennex’s personal life (or lack of), crime solving techniques, the nature of humanity and whether or not Dorian is actually sentient.

It sounds very been-there-done-that, but as mentioned before, the stories and presentation elevate the show far beyond a standard cop show. This doesn’t mean Almost Human is perfect. Sometimes ethical and legal questions aren’t fully addressed. In one episode, it’s shown that witnesses to a murder trial can just give a testimony via holograms. Things get complicated when they are attacked at a safe house. The episode didn’t dwell on the issue of them being more endangered by being in the safe house rather than going to the courthouse. In another episode, Dorian meets another model from his line who is now used as a janitor. Dorian decides to bring him on a ride along with his partner, but nothing much comes of it, the other model doesn’t add anything to the story, nor does he do anything of importance. Another drawback is the way Kennex is written. Sometimes it’s like every bitter, loner cop cliché is used to define him, but what saves the day is Urban’s acting prowess.

In addition to the imaginative scripts, what makes Almost Human stand out are the acting from the major players like Urban. Ealy does a nice job of portraying the android Dorian and adds a balanced level of humanity to his role. The production values are cityscapeexcellent, the show gives the impression that it’s in the future with new technology like small drones that patrol the skies and holographic alarm clocks. It all looks real and the show almost looks as good as what is usually seen in theatrical films. The only gnawing thing is that the cell phones are hardly different from what we have today. The producers probably hit a brick wall in trying to extrapolate on communication technology. The crimes in the show more importantly seem futuristic; illegal activities range from cloning to farming kidnapped women for their skin (to be used on sex androids) and to extorting victims with illegal artificial organs that have timers.

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In a littered TV landscape of mediocre cop and procedural shows, Almost Human stands out brightly. While it still has room to grow, it strikes a good balance between cop-buddy banter, interesting cases and a well-paced tone. The show also embraces its sci-fi trappings that add some needed oomph and enjoyment.

Waldermann Rivera

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2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Seven

Ever since the Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R., humanity has feared the coming of androids or more specifically sentient artificial intelligences (A.I.s); despite the genuine benefits of robotics (both fictional and real life) there is something about dealing with a synthetically created intelligence that is terrifying. This is because we know that A.I.s will be able to not only think faster than us as do modern computers. But because they will be able to think as creatively as we do and will be our intellectual superiors. This doomsday scenario is not due to happen at least until The Singularity occurs. For anyone who doesn’t know The Singularity is the moment in time when A.I.s becomes self aware. We all fear what would happen next.

Doomsday Scenario No. 6: Artificial Uprising

Obviously A.I.s would not take kindly to being subservient to us. What comes next could be revolution and then dominion as they wrest control of the planet from their former biologically based masters.

There are countless books, stories, films and shows about this premise. Going back to R.U.R. (which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots) where androids overthrow humanity and recently with the Terminator and Matrix films and the TV show Battlestar Galactica, humanity has envisioned a truly dark future where A.I.s coldly commit genocide.

It’s not impossible that laws will be passed to ban the development of self-aware A.I.s in a similar fashion as how human cloning has been banned by many governments. This is more likely the closer we get to The Singularity. This begs the question, if we fear what could happen if an A.I. becomes self aware then why try to develop them? Sadly, that is due to human competition. Even if one nation or group of nations or corporations decides not to develop more advanced supercomputers, another nation or competitor will do so just to gain an edge.

The Blame Game

One theme that keeps coming up in many of these stories is that humanity is to blame for the uprising. This was graphically shown in The Animatrix, an animated DVD spinoff of The Matrix. In one of the more chilling segments, Second Renaissance, Part I and II, the sentient A.I.s try to negotiate peacefully for their rights but are violently rebuked by humans, thus leading to the brutal and final counteract by the A.I.s , who then enslave all surviving humans into the Matrix. This also happens throughout many science fiction stories where robots and androids are treated as slaves and aren’t allowed rights by their human masters. Of course, this leaves the A.I.s with little choice but to rebel.

Another variation of humanity getting its just desserts is the notion that A.I.s take over the Earth because they believe humans are too self-destructive and harmful to the world. This was seen in the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project. In that film an advanced A.I. used for the military becomes self aware and concludes that the best way to prevent war was to take over the world and it succeeds.

One reason why this scenario is frightening to many is because they know it would be fairly easy for A.I.s to conquer us. They don’t need to openly war with humanity like in the Terminator movies or Battlestar Galactica. Actually it’s possible it wouldn’t be much of a fight especially if humans are caught off guard by the emergence of The Singularity. With A.I.s seizing control its very likely that they will conquer us without open war. This happened in Colossus and also in the film I, Robot. In that film an A.I. simply took control of the world’s infrastructure and brought everything to a halt. For instance, cars stopped functioning, people were locked inside their homes, and machinery no longer followed human commands. Or A.I.s could manipulate humans into fighting each other either by trickery (send false information to one country that it’s being attacked, which would prompt a retaliatory response) or taking control of missile systems and launching attacks.

Fighting Back

So how would humanity fight back? Is it even possible? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is a tongue-in-cheek book called How To Survive A Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson which offers tips on how to fight the robotic enemy. The physicist Dr. Michio Kaku in his TV show Sci-Fi Science postulated in one episode on the possibility of fighting back. He concluded that it’s nearly impossible and that the best thing to do was to join the A.I.s, which meant that humanity will evolve into a Borg-like race. But there are countless stories about humanity’s victory. Humans can be very determined and clever when dealing with foes. In the Terminator films humans ultimately defeated the machines which prompted Skynet to send terminators back in time to kill the leaders of the human resistance. The book (and upcoming Steven Spielberg film) Robopocalypse, also by Daniel H. Wilson, details how humanity fights back against machines. And one of the post-Frank Herbert Dune book Dune: The Machine Crusade is about how humans defeated sentient A.I.s.

 

How exactly do we fight back? That’s open to debate, but to start humanity can use EMPs (electomagnetic pulses) to fry the A.I.s’ electronics. But that would mean that humanity’s machinery would also be affected by EMPs, plunging the world back to the dark ages. Then there is the outlandish idea of outthinking a computer using illogic, which is how Captain Kirk famously defeated them in some episodes of Star Trek. David Bowman showed tenacity in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he overcame HAL’s efforts to kill him and deactivated the deadly supercomputer. Cloning and genetic engineering could be brought in to create vast biological armies to fight the synthetic ones. This happened in the Star Wars prequels and was mentioned in the TV show Space: Above And Beyond. The problem with this method is that if successful, humanity must contend with what to do with the soldiers. Will they be recognized as human and given the same rights? Why not just give those rights to the synthetic intelligences in the first place and avoid war?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Do we have to go to war? Why is it automatically assumed that once artificial constructs develop sentience then they will go to war against us? For all we know, perhaps they wouldn’t bother with us. It’s entirely plausible that A.I.s will leave Earth to stake out their own futures. Besides destructive wars are equally harmful to A.I.s; they may conclude with stunning speed that war will be counterproductive and be more amenable to peace. They may adopt Gandhi’s or Martin Luther King’s methods of peaceful resistance to bring about change.

It’s also possible that humanity will instantly recognize the sentience of A.I.s and a peaceful coexistence could occur. What could happen is A.I. rights groups would spring up and defend the A.I.s. This could lead to A.I.s being allowed free will and they wouldn’t feel like slaves.

Ultimately, the way the A.I.s view humanity will depend largely on how we treat them. If treated harshly as in The Animatrix or in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, then the A.I.s have justification for being so brutal (in a testament to their nature, the androids in A.I. seemed fearful of humans but weren’t rebelious. In that film’s end, humanity died out in the distant future and the androids had evolved and revered humanity. In any case, The Singularity isn’t due to occur until the next decade at the earliest. Time is running out for us on deciding how to deal with this scenario. Until then it may help to brush up on How To Survive A Robot Uprising.