Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Westworld

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Westworld

Article excerpt

The other day James Lovelock, the sprightly 97-year-old inventor of Gaia theory, told a mildly surprised Guardian interviewer that he wasn't remotely worried about climate change any more. A far more plausible threat, he explained, were all the killer robots that would soon emerge and find no use for us inconvenient humans.

Apparently this is a fashionable worry. It has to do with something called the 'singularity', which is the theoretical moment when machines become so sophisticated than they can outthink us, then advance at such a pace that we become powerless to stop them. Some experts are seriously concerned, for example, about the development of 'fully autonomous weapons' -- killer robots which can select and fire on targets independent of human intervention. Fine if they're taking out our enemies -- but what if they turn on us? What if they find a way of overriding the off button?

So the new series Westworld (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday) is bang on trend, concerning as it does a bunch of robots going tonto in a futuristic pleasure-world where humans pay lots of money to live out, in supposed safety, all their sex and adventure fantasies.

In the original 1973 movie, written by Michael Crichton, there were three alternative robo-holiday destinations: one Wild West; one orgiastic Roman; one Medieval. This reboot, adapted by Jonathan Nolan, appears content so far to stick to just the cowboy world. It's a slightly odd choice when you think about it: hardly anyone under 50 much cares about the Wild West; by the time we reach the future in which Westworld is set, probably no one will. Not that this is remotely bothersome when you're watching: the production and detail are too lushly pleasing; also, you're far too busy mulling over all the existential complexity.

'Do androids dream of electric sheep?' That was the question Philip K. Dick asked in the prescient 1968 short story which became the 1982 film Blade Runner . This seems to form the basis of the glitch which is about to make the robots go mental in Westworld : their creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), has grown too much in love with them. In his obsessive quest to make them as human as he possibly can, he has instilled in them qualities dangerously close to consciousness. The replicants in Blade Runner had the same problem: they felt so human that they were understandably miffed when Harrison Ford came along and started killing them. …

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