Throughout the class, we’ve talked multiple times about the idea of seamlessness and seamlessness in a technological society. In making something seamless, one must thereby conceal the mechanisms and make invisible or obscure the full workings and modes of the system. Thus, that which is seamless is also opaque. I wrote about this at length in two previous blog posts, looking at how this understanding translates when applying it to a political system. However, this concept also relates to us on scale smaller than the institutions we live under and our political system; it exists within ourselves, the human system.
The human body and mind are quite utterly a seamless system, its intricate workings and processes enclosed in a soft-skinned shell that says very little to the complexity existing inside. There is beauty in our seamlessness, and to ourselves, we are perfection, seamless to the utmost capacity. However, when we begin to view ourselves as technology in this way, it becomes easier to see the similarities between ourselves the technology, the systems, we create. In our vanity, we want our systems to reflect ourselves, in sleekness, seamlessness, functionality. This is why our images are sharper, software moves faster, devices get thinner; we want them to see as we do, think as we can, and be as opaque and seamless in their operation as we are. But, only to an extent. This feeling of seamlessness in our creations exists as long as the fundamental understanding that this is a technological system and not a human system remains. There must be a divide between the human and system. We want it to be like ourselves, but we do not want it to be us.
Thus, there is a consequence when this fundamental understanding and differentiation becomes blurred or dissipates entirely. This is seen most acutely in depictions or living examples of artificial intelligence and its advancement. Films like Ex Machina and I, Robot begin to explore this. The AI systems in these films appear sleek and are seamless in their function. However, despite being seamless, they are also, at once, transparent in their existence as a technological system, a production and, therefore, a subordinate to humanity. The AI of I, Robot are fully transparent as a system in their appearance, and are further portrayed as a tool and aid to humanity, existing to be companions or servants for humans and, of course, Will Smith’s sidekick. Ex Machina begins to dissolve this transparency. While Ava, the AI humanoid bot, has the distinctly human face of actress Alicia Vikander, as well as Vikander’s general silouette, Ava’s chrome body and exposed wiring at the torso and neck continue to make her as a system transparent. So, while her functioning is extremely advanced, and seamless in this sense, her construction and existence still lacks the opacity to rival humanity.
But what about the AI created for the purpose of seeming human? I speak specifically of the AI depicted in the tv show Westworld. Here, the physical gap is closed and the AI is made fully opaque, completely covered in a synthetic skin and dressed to blend in amongst the humans in the park. Even further, their creator imbues them with code to access former storylines from the park, former iterations of themselves, memories essentially. It’s this ability to remember, to have emotions, to sympathize, that allows the AI humanoids to mingle and interact with the visitors in a way that feel authentic to the humans. However, in doing so, the humanoids are imbued with an intricacy and an opaque seamlessness that renders them virtually indistinguishable from the humans. Humanness and “to be human” has been set as the ultimate and pinnacle of technological advancement and perfection, but in striving towards this, that which was once transparent becomes an enigma and, more pointedly, an adversary rather than an aid. In all of the films and shows I’ve mentioned, the main conflict always revolves around what happens when these AI develop consciousness. In I, Robot, the servants seek to become the masters. In Ex Machina, Ava seeks freedom from the confinement and control of humans. In Westworld, the androids seek to eradicate the humans, establish their own order. It’s a struggle for control that’s wholly man-made, and becomes even more complicated when recognizing the true systems at play. In this, the humans go against their creation, but the creation is also human, played by human actors and actresses. This becomes increasingly clear, from depictions ranging from I, Robot to Westworld, bring us to confront the product of our downfall in our own image, a rival that can distinctly be seen as our peer, because it is us. In other words, we become our own worst enemy, our own albatross and reckoning.