Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanks to Infidel 753, I describe how 'Westworld' is like 'Jurassic Park'

Once again, I put the topic of today's entry up for a vote.  This time, all the votes came in as comments to the blog entry instead of the blog's Facebook page.  Infidel 753 requested "Westworld" while Paul Wartenberg cast a write-in for "Doctor Who."  That left me to break the tie, which I did in favor of "Westworld."  Sorry, Paul.  Maybe next time.

Infidel made the follow argument on behalf of his choice:
Can I vote for Westworld? I never much cared for "post-apocalyptic" anything, and by now it's become ubiquitous to the point of cliché. Artificial intelligence is the kind of thing science fiction should be addressing, since it's likely to lie in our actual future.
He then repeated his point in today's link roundup.
A new TV show looks at ethical questions involving artificial intelligence that the real world may soon have to face (found via Crazy Eddie).
Thanks for the linkback and hat/tip, Infidel!*  You also prompted me to write the "more thorough entry" I promised in Evan Rachel Woods on acting in Westworld.

Enough preliminaries -- time to talk about the show itself.  I begin with this bit of promotion barely disguised as a news report, Wochit Entertainment's What Is HBO's Westworld About?

Westworld, the new sci-fi drama series from HBO, promises to explore the current human fascination and dependency on technology, while exposing what our darkest desires are without having any consequence.  Of course the series is getting the HBO treatment, meaning more sex, more violence, and more shockers than the original film.
The similarities between Jurassic Park and, by extension, Jurassic World, and "Westworld" hit me very early in my watching.  Both explore the concept of using advanced technologies, genetic engineering in the case of the "Jurassic Park" movies and artificial intelligence plus robotics in the case of "Westworld," to create the attractions in a theme park.  Of course, both works originally come from the same author, Michael Crichton, and "Westworld" came first, so the inspiration probably flowed from the cowboy robots to the genetically engineered dinosaurs.  It seems that the influence has now flowed from back to its source, with "Jurassic Park" now coloring HBO's "Westworld."  Watch Westworld is Just Jurassic Park from College Humor to see even more commonalities between the two franchises.

Imagine a theme park populated with things from the past that eight year olds love...
Just because it's a joke doesn't mean it's not all true.  Just the same, I doubt the parallels involving the park's creators were there in the original "Westworld" movie.  Instead, I suspect they were added by executive producer J.J. Abrams and showrunners Jonathan Nolan and wife Lisa Joy, especially J.J. Abrams.  Not only did he suggest that the remake be a TV series from the androids' point of view, his "mystery box" philosophy of storytelling runs through the show.  I wouldn't put it past him to bring in some of the tropes from "Jurassic Park" to flesh out the current miniseries.

I have more to write about "Westworld," but I'll save it for another installment.  Stay tuned.

*Infidel is more of an optimist about the future than I am and appears to be less enamored with the zombie apocalypse, which I acknowledge is a scenario that won't actually happen.  That written, it does work as a metaphor for what makes Americans anxious about the present and future.  Just the same, Infidel did take advantage of an opportunity to steer my writing to a subject he found interesting, which I'm inviting my readers to do every week; more of them should do that when I present the opening.


  1. Thanks for the post. I saw the original Westworld movie years ago, and the parallels with Jurassic Park are straightforward enough -- both are fairly typical "scientific hubris" stories about monsters created by humans which turn on their creators, a theme which goes back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, if not to the myth of the golem.

    It does look like the new Westworld series has something more to offer, though. Neither the original movie nor Jurassic Park really raised much in the way of ethical issues, beyond the basic "do not create that which you cannot keep under control". The new series, as suggested by the article I found in your earlier post, really seems to be getting into the deep questions posed by artificial intelligence. If we create machines which have self-awareness and the capacity to suffer, what rights do they have? If we continue to treat them as property and use them for purposes like entertainment and sex, regardless of whatever wishes they themselves have, then haven't we really re-invented slavery? Should we acknowledge that such entities have a "right" to revolt against exploitation the same way humans would?

    These are issues we're likely to actually face in the near future. Anything that encourages people to think about them before the fact is valuable.

    1. I was thinking of mentioning "Frankenstein" but decided to see if a commenter would bring it up instead. Thank you, you did.

      The "Westworld" TV series shows not only that a lot of technological progress has been made in the past 33 years that makes the concept of a theme park full of androids more likely, but that society has done some serious thinking about the possibility in the meantime. My wife and I are quite impressed at the depth of the ideas explored in the show. The creators have also done their research. Every time they mention something about evolution in Ford's dialog, they're right. This is especially true about the more disturbing concepts mentioned, like sexual selection contributing to the development of the human mind and what humans did to our nearest relatives. As someone who knows the field, that's both gratifying and unsettling.

  2. Oh, and concerning my technological optimism -- the record seems to show that in the modern world, technological progress is immune to disruption even by events that are otherwise catastrophic. World War II, for example, caused enormous destruction and suffering, but it hardly dented the pace of technological development at all.

    The recent election has certainly brought pessimism to the fore, and terrible things may yet happen, but I doubt they'll have any impact on the rate of progress in areas like robotics and artificial intelligence. Trump may drive a lot of that progress out of the US to Europe and Japan, but he won't be able to slow it down.

    1. You're right about the progress of technology during World War II. Every semester, I give a lecture to every class I teach about how technological progress during World War II was converted into civilian use after the war. In fact, I gave one of those lectures today to one of my classes and will give to another tomorrow. I'm more worried about local reversion of social progress, however temporary, and how much additional environmental damage the next four to eight years will produce compared to what most of us were expecting.

      As for technological progress under Trump, I'm actually optimistic about what he'll do for space exploration. Yeah, that's like rooting for one of the Pauls to win to speed along marijuana legalization. The good will likely be outweighed by the bad.