Machine of Interest

  3 m, 20 s

It’s rare that we talk about the content of a particular film or television series on this blog. Most of the time, we focus on how others react to these pop culture events more so than how we reacted. Yet, we have to talk a little bit about the CBS procedural drama Person of Interest who’s fifth season finale in June was the last of the series.

What makes it relevant to us is not that it was a comic-book-style thriller (which it was) or that it was an interesting study in things like modern-surveillance and the value of life. Rather, what’s most interesting about this show is that it respected the real-life science and was one of the most unique portrayals of artificial intelligence we’ve seen.

For those not familiar an eccentric computer-wizard named Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) recruits a former soldier in the black-ops war on terror named John (Jim Caviezel) to help him save individual lives. Finch had built an all-seeing A.I. after 9/11 that was able to predict terrorist plots. However, it was also able to predict other acts of violence, but because it only affected a few people they were deemed “irrelevant.”

What’s most notable about the show is that it avoided most of the A.I. tropes while still being true to the kinds of concerns such a power would rise. For example, a later-addition to the cast named Root (Amy Acker) worshipped the A.I. in the show like a goddess. She believed it was a force for good, and Finch believed it was a force that needed to be kept in check.

Yet, as the series unfolded, the A.I.—known as “the Machine”—became a full-fledged character. However unlike Ultron from the Avengers or SkyNet from the Terminator franchise, the Machine learned the value of human life, and was willing to sacrifice her own existence to save us. Eventually an “evil” A.I. was introduced, but even that storyline was more about the misguided humans running the program than ascribed a morality to the A.I. itself.

This was no accident.

Creator of the show and executive producer Jonathan Nolan—who previously worked with brother Chris on the “Dark Knight” trilogy of Batman films—talked about the role A.I. played on the show.

From Deadline:

Part of the reason for the inception of the show or the spark for me was that I had seen many, many examples in film and TV of dystopian visions of AI. But, while the movie Her is a great example that came out a couple of years after we started making the show, it is one of the very few examples you can point towards of a positive depiction of artificial intelligence. It’s a subject that I’m kind of fascinated with, took a similar approach with the robots in Interstellar and now our current project, HBO’s Westworld, sort of exploring the same idea. I think we’ve long viewed AI as the bogeyman. That’s indicative of the way that we’ve viewed anything else that we see as a possible threat to us. Look, there’s good reason to be apprehensive.

Nolan goes on to argue that in the real-world, he believes efforts like Elon Musk’s open-source A.I. program is what will ultimately produce the best version of this kind of futuristic version of intelligence. He believes that transparency will help us create benevolent A.I. more like the Machine and less like HAL from 2001.

For what it’s worth, A.I. is already here. We work with a pretty amazing one every single day. Not all A.I. has to have a consciousness or a personality for it to “count.” However, it’s nice to see positive portrayals of these fiction A.I. like Her and Person of Interest, because it helps folks get more comfortable with the idea.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in our comments section below!

Categories: Special Interest, Technology