Disclaimer - This post contains spoilers
At the age of about 10 or so, I remember watching the 1973 film Westworld, and thoroughly enjoying it. Despite both it probably being an inappropriate watch at that age, and that I should have been scared, I was already fascinated by robots and was beginning to take an interest in Sci-Fi movies.
Having worked my way from Short Circuit to Robocop through Terminator, Westworld was a good watch that at the time felt like a unique take on the concept of human made devices going rogue.
HBO's series takes everything that was great about Westworld, and really accentuates and builds upon everything that made that film so good, and aside from the theme tune, I was hooked by Ed Harris' obvious reminiscent depiction of Yul Brynner's gunslinger.
Currently half way through the second season, here are some of the concepts the show explores that I find particularly fascinating...
I adore videogames, films, and TV series, rooted in one very simple notion: Escapism. The sense of forgetting about your reality and delving into one unlike any other, the fabrications of fiction and the narratives that keep us pondering can either terrify us, or have us wishing to inseminate ourselves in such.
With the developments of VR technologies, as a society we seem to be ever seeking to make our escapist dreams seem more like an immersive reality, and as such, a theme park of the likes of Westworld doesn't seem so much like a fiction, but a realistic vision of the future.
What I feel the series challenges about this however, is when you indulge too much. When you become so involved in your notion of fiction and what it means to you, that the life you lead to help you afford the luxury of escapism becomes mundane and arduous by nature.
'The Matrix' both popularised, and for many more, opened our eyes to the possibility that everything we know to be true, is actually a lie, a computer simulation in which we exist as veritable cattle to a host of machines that exist due to hubris.
A big part of the Season 1 arc was several key characters sense of reality beginning to crumble through the implementation of the 'reverie' code, which allows them to remember their groundhog day existence.
Reality is a perception, but in this instance, a fabrication. The guests pay through the nose to escape their reality, and once the hosts develop sentience, they too seek to escape their reality, however, for very different reasons.
But where does the idea come from that their existence is wrong? Is it in order to seek knowledge of the outside world, perhaps they have been coded to understand slavery - Or perhaps the notion of slavery truthfully, is instinctively wrong. Which as a side note just makes the history of that in real life so much worse when you consider the people who enacted such atrocities to know what they were doing was wrong...But doing it anyway.
A key tenement to a plethora of Sci-Fi explorations, and a discussion for real life.
One of my favourite scenes in Season 1 is the moment when Maeve is presented with the flowchart programme of her speech which she believes to just be her own 'free will of diction'. Not only does she have pre-scripted dialogue, but a mechanism to enact improvisation...Although, with limitations.
The problem with Artificial Intelligence, is just that, it is Articificial. How can something as conceptually liberating as "free will" be constructed by something so planned and methodical as computer coding.
Later in the series this evolves into this wonderful moment that's left open to interpretation, when she believes herself to have launched an uprising and be free in her rebellion to break out, escape, and discover what the 'real world' has to offer.
Only to be told that everything she's presently doing is pre-scripted on her programme, left off with the foreshadowing of how her season arc comes to a close. That moment where she's on the train...Was she scripted to fulfil her escape, or was she scripted to return in an effort to seek her 'daughter', that she knows to also be a manufacture. One would assume the latter.
"Do you believe in fate, Neo?
"Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life."
There are various aspects of control presented throughout the series thus far, be it the guests using the services and in many cases, abusing them. The hosts guiding the narratives and giving the more innocent guests and entertaining jaunt in an immersive tale. Management seeking control of the business, or Robert Ford initiating a destructive narrative in a bid to succeed in AI and perhaps defining the hosts as an enslaved species in their own right.
But when as above, the narratives are so controlled inclusive of the potential for Maeve's final actions, can we really be so sure that the hosts are free of control?
Our lives are controlled heavily by our society, the rules and laws of survival governed by either our democracy, or dictatorship. Generally speaking, we work in order to make money, money used to survive in our modern standard of gathering rather than the 'nature' of hunting. Survival of the fittest no longer applies, when every person in existence is worthy of an equal shot at life...Yet we too are in many ways enslaved by these concepts which are argued to be abused by those in charge of them.
As a populous we often query where all our taxes truthfully go, and why certain necessary services are hindered by financing, when that pot should be conceivably large. For the majority of the working western civilisation, we are a month or two away from veritable ruin, so are we really in control of our lives when we have so many basic needs to be fulfilled in order to survive?
Whilst the revelation of 'Wyatt' being a 'consciousness' for Delores, it is unfortunately still introduced to us as a prospective narrative and a programme.
With the uprising in Season 2 being what is depicted in many sci-fi explorations of AI, can we really be so sure that this is born of free will...Or is it all what it was communicated to be "a narrative"?
Bernard - What a revelation, who knew that he would be one of them, and to compliment it, that stunned moment where Felix looks at his hands, wondering that if an employee he worked with for so long was one and didn't know it, could he be too?
What are we if all we are is a programme and a narrative, if predetermination oversees our life, are we who we think we are, or just the sum of manipulation by forces outside of our influence?
Then we have Williams arc from Season 1, who's future brother in law makes a point of saying several times, that you find out who you really are in Westworld.
When the sense of control is so conceivably free in your escapism, how can you return to your reality where you then must re-conform to the standards. We our raised with behavioural controls, we act differently depending on our circumstances because of the need to navigate the fields of life with compassion and humility, 'treat those as you wish to be treated yourself', but when the sentiment is one sided, who do you become...Are you really who you think you are, or is your true self restricted by the narratives of your life.
As mentioned previously, survival of the fittest. Our origins always seem to be historically connected with violence, from hunting food to survive, through to slavery, genocide and world wars. Is it really in our nature to remove that which offends our means of survival by any means necessary?
You find out who you really are in Westworld, but is the debaucherous murdering rapist really who you are, or is it only because you are aware that those you are committing these acts to aren't really 'people', but machines built for that purpose.
Can instinct really exist from artificial intelligence, when said coding is based upon human evolution and history?
Hosts become aware of the fabrication of their world when they begin to remember, and the way in which their memories exist is highly fascinating. Bernard's malfunction in Season 2 has him constantly asking "is this now?", as being a machine it's logical to consider that memories are perceived differently for them, in that they may be vivid. I can't help but wonder if it might be what dementia may be like in part, constantly unsure of where you are and everything being jumbled up and out of sequence.
We think the way we do, form opinions and methodologies, and we develop as people because of our memories. What if our memories are manufactured, what if we really are a simulation that was just turned on 5 minutes ago, pre-loaded with a life time of experience.
Memories are part of our identity, and are vital to how we go through life, so how do these affect our sense of identity when they're manipulated?
Feel free to comment below with any thoughts you might have in relation to these concepts, or any ideas I might have failed to mention that get you hypothesising.