How do I feel about the new AMC show Humans? In a word: excited. Is it another show about an alternate reality filled with anthropomorphized machines? Yes. Do the machines remind the viewer of hundreds of other android tales, filled with rightfully frightened Luddites who realize the machines are more than they appear to be? Of course. It wouldn’t be a believable sci-fi android/AI show if it didn’t reference the past, present, and future of technology and sci-fi tech.
First, a quick aside. In case you missed it, the opening credits of Humans features videos of real androids, minus the parts where they fall down or otherwise malfunction. The videos establish a link between our reality and the reality of the show, adding an irresistible little nugget for people like myself who love seeing how the human mind can turn dreams into reality. Sure, it still takes a robot hours to fold a shirt, but isn’t it cool to see a robot doing laundry, even if it takes way more time and effort than doing it yourself? Anyway, back to the show.
The androids of Humans are governed by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. They cannot harm humans or, by inaction, cause humans to come to harm—this includes humanity in general (Law 0). They must obey commands given by humans, and they cannot allow harm to come to themselves, unless doing so conflicts with the first two laws. Of course, the series starts with a group of renegade androids (“synths” or “synthetics”) and their human counterpart fleeing from a group of humans trying to capture them. Trouble besets them on the road, and the group is split. Each android introduces the viewer to other pieces of the puzzle: a family struggling with various personal issues; a police officer whose dislike of synths grows each day; and an aging Geppetto who cannot bear to see his remaining link to the past—his synth Odi—deteriorate.
While the basic premise is an action-drama about androids running from big and possibly bad corporate-scientist types, the real meat and potatoes of Humans deals with harder issues: what does it mean to be human; how are advances in technology changing people’s ways of life; will removing people from various human interactions negatively impact a person’s quality of life. One of the main characters asks why she should bother working hard in school, when a machine can and probably will replace her. She hears an advocate for the advancement of technology proclaim that newer, better synthetics will give people more time to live as humans instead of machines, causing her to remark, “so, what, we’ll all be poets then.”
Both sides of the technological divide are present in Humans. Dr. Millican, the resident Geppetto, is relieved and comforted by his synth, who reminds him of better times and keeps him occupied after a stroke and the loss of his wife. However, the presence of an android sent by his insurance company reflects current fears of the invasion of privacy by sharing too much information. He is trapped by a conglomerate who claims the right to tell him what to do “for his own good.” The policeman’s wife is also aided by an insurance-mandated synth after an accident, but the android’s negative impact on her and her husband’s emotional well-being is apparent from the first episode. This is one of the other major issues presented in Humans: when is working for the greater good really working towards a great evil. Insurance companies and scientists “needing” to advance technology are the first invaders presented by the series; I imagine many more will appear as the season progresses.
Human beings and androids share blame for the wrongs and victory for the rights in Humans. The turns in the narrative remind me of other current dramas with androids, especially the comic Alex+Ada. Like most of the best sci-fi—the best storytelling—it is less about the fantastical elements and more about how the characters react to certain situations. I haven’t seen the Swedish inspiration for Humans—a show called Real Humans—but I can say I like what I’m seeing from this British-American version. The story grabs you and pulls you in. I can’t wait until next week. See you then.