Category Archives: Reviews

Westworld is us

I pitched an article about Westworld to The Conversation and they REJECTED it. Here are some notes towards that unwritten article. There are at least three ideas in here. Spoilers.

A lot has been said about Westworld but the ideas in the show go well beyond facile considerations of the ethics of AI1)The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.. They actually concern the basis of consciousness, beauty and life. Westworld is in fact the latest instance of the Nolan brothers’ explorations of reality as the only source of real wonder.

Westworld never veers into the supernatural, but investigates the edge of plausibility. In this sense it recognises that the most strange, unintuitive ideas actually come from reality as revealed by science. The Nolan brothers’ output provides what I think is a body of work representative of the aesthetic of modern science. In a world denuded of superstition and magical explanation, scientific investigations reveal a world that is more wonderful and strange than what folklore, religion and fantasy have supposed. Continue reading Westworld is us

Footnotes

1. The major overt discussion in the show is over whether the hosts are conscious. Yet there is little consideration for refraining from harming the hosts, even if they have not achieved the unified mind of a conscious human. The obvious parallel is with animals. As Jeremy Benthem pointed out about a million years ago now, the relevant point is capacity for suffering, not sentience. Indeed the images of hosts’ dismembered corpses being hosed down by workers in plastic overalls is all too redolent of abattoirs. If we ever create things like hosts, it would be deeply, Nazi-ishly immoral to enslave them in any way. Whether they had real self-awareness or not they feel distress, as much as any non-human animal. If the idea of a machine feeling pain shocks you, you need to learn more about what we’re made of. See above.