The Walking Dead – Season Four, Episode Six

wd_season4And we’re back with more of AMC’s The Walking Dead. This week, the sixth episode aired, with just more to go before the show takes another mid-season break. And it’s clear that they are working up to something climactic, given that the story involving the flu that’s sweeping the prison has finally come to an end. And it’s pretty clear at this point who’s going to be involved.

As expected, this week’s episode was all about the Governor, addressing what happened to him after the events of the last season. This would be everything that followed from the abortive attack on the prison, his subsequent breakdown and summary execution of his people, and his fleeing into the wilderness. And in all honesty, it was kind of interesting…

Live Bait:
wd4_livebait_govThe episode begins with a recap of what happened since the Season Three finale. After shooting his own people, the Governor and what was left of his henchmen drove to a spot in the wilderness where they set up camp. In the morning when the Governor awoke, he realized he had been abandoned by the last of them and drove to Woodbury. Finding it abandoned, he set the town ablaze and began walking the road.

After wandering for quite some time, he comes upon a community where a family is held up in an apartment complex. This consists of Lily (a former nurse), her daughter Megan, sister Tara (a police academy student), and father David (a former truck driver). After meeting with them and telling them his name is Brian, he takes the apartment across the hall and begins helping them.

wd4_livebaitEventually, Lily asks for his help in obtaining more oxygen tanks from the nearby senior care center. Her father, who is dying of lung cancer, is running out, and she fears what will happen to her daughter if he dies. Brian goes to the center and finds a large stash, but is quickly set upon by a dozen or so Walkers and has to retreat with what he can carry.

Afterward, Lily begins to attend to his injuries and tells him that Megan initially thought that Brian was her father, who disappeared three years back. Megan is left to watch over him and asks what happens to his eye, and the two quickly begin to bond. He teaches her to play chess, and she draws an eye patch on the king to make it look like him.

wd4_livebait2Afterwards, he and Megan learn that David has died, and may have been dead for some time. He tells them to leave, but David comes back before they can, and Brian crushes his head with an oxygen tank. After burying him outside, Tara tells him that they understand what that their father had turned, and forgive him for what he did.

That night in his room, Brian burns a picture he has been keeping of himself with his wife and daughter and tells Lily that he’s leaving. Lily tells him they are coming too to find something better, and that he’s stuck with them. Grabbing the truck David commandeered, they begin to drive off. While on the road, Brian and Lily make love while the others sleep.

wd4_livebait3The next day, the truck won’t start and they begin walking. On the road, they are spotted by a herd of Walkers and are forced to ditch their gear and run. After clearing the forest by the side of the road, Brian and Megan fall into a trench and are set upon by several more and Brian manages to kill them with his bare hands. After reassuring Megan, he looks up and sees Martinez looking down at them.

Summary:
Well, that’s part I of what happened to the Governor down. And judging from the sneak peak, part II is all about him and his new family being introduced to a new community, one which is run by Martinez himself. And of course, things go awry, and I’m guessing the Governor deciding to oust Martinez as leader has something to do with that.

wd4_livebait5But getting back to what happened this week, I would reiterate that it seemed interesting. After all he’s done and been through, it was kind of neat to see what the Governor got up to after his sudden disappearance. It’s always good in a series when a character who is considered evil and irredeemable is given a second chance at life and finds a way to carry on.

However, I would have to say that things began to fall apart for me when it became obvious that Lily, Tara and Megan are becoming his new family. The indications were many and obvious, and it seemed like the moment David died, it would prove to be the case. And if all those hints weren’t enough, he even burns the picture of his old family just to make it abundantly clear.

wd4_livebait4I did suspect that there might be some tension after Lily and he hooked up, but they pretty much nullified that with the 11th hour revelation that Tara is a lesbian. Kind of seemed a bit awkward and forced, but whatever. I guess they had their hands full with finding a way to both fill in the missing pieces of the story and bring it back to the point where he begins messing with the prison crew again.

Some things I did like is where the Governor takes out several Walkers with his bare bands. Not since Michonne had her hands bound and her sword confiscated have we seen such creativity at work. And I was also surprised to see Martinez at the end, and was intrigued by the idea of the Governor being forced to endure his leadership for a change. I imagine some interesting scenarios occurring in the episodes to come.

wd4_livebait6On the other hand, I do kind of worry that the Governor’s role in this season is going to last to the end. With just two more episodes before the season halfway mark, I’m thinking that the next two episodes will both involve the Governor, in full or in part. That way, he can remain in the background for the rest of the season as the prison crew’s antagonist, thus ending the season with a final battle.

Which means it won’t be until season five that they’ll be getting back to anything resembling the original plot. Still, should be interesting, and the prospect of a little action where the Governor is no longer in charge and fighting for some other than brutal, backstabbing revenge will certainly be worth watching! Until next week…

“Synthetics” and “Artificial Humans”, the AI’s of Alien!

David:
Also known as “David 8”, the first in the line of Weyland Industries fully functional AI’s, which have the ability to proximate human emotions, even though they cannot experience them. In addition to his impressive machine intelligence, he also comes equipped with a characteristic intrinsic to all Alien androids – moral flexibility!

Yes, in addition to assimilating all known info on Indo-European languages, the “Engineers” biology, and the nature of their bio-weapons, he also managed to unleash the bio-weapon within a human crew just to shake things up! And he did it all on the orders of Mr. Weyland himself, mainly so to help him find a way to cheat death.

In the end, David didn’t prove to be all bad. After having his head ripped off by an Engineer and witnessing Weyland’s death, he went on to help save Dr. Shaw and agreed to assist her in her mission to find the homeworld of the engineers. But that didn’t come as a huge surprise. As he had intimated to Shaw earlier in the movie, the death of Weyland would set him free. Once free, he became a much nicer guy!

Ash:
The same cannot be said for this next example, who comes to us from the original Alien movie. Originally thought to be a human who served as the Nostromo’s chief medical officer, Ash was revealed to be a synthetic that was taking his orders directly from the ship’s AI, which in turn was instructing him to follow company’s directives. And all who say him in the first movie can agree, this particular android was a complete and utter douche!

Not only was he willing to let the cry did in order to get the Xenomorph back to his handler’s alive, he tried to kill Ripley when she found out and even expressed open admiration for the Xenomorph. “I admire its purity,” he said. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Jackass! Needless to say, Ripley’s experience with this synthetic severely soured her towards all androids.

Bishop:
Luckily, this next example was able to restore Ripley’s faith. As the Sulaco’s android executive officer, he was responsible for planetary maneuvering, but also acted as the away team’s science officer and performed various other functions as well. But unlike Ash, he was unable to allow harm to come to humans thanks to the inclusion of his “behavioural inhibitors”, which were tantamount to Asimov’s Three Laws.

Also unlike Ash, Bishop was loyal to the crew of the Sulaco and to Ripley in particular. When Burke tried to circumvent military authority and order Bishop to preserve the alien specimens, he alerted Ripley to the incongruity. He also managed to save Ripley and Newt from certain death when the Alien Queen had them cornered.

As if that wasn’t enough, he even prevented Newt when Ripley decompressed the Sulaco’s landing bay, and he was ripped in half at the time!

Annalee Call:
Taken from the universe of Alien: Resurrection, Annalee Call (aka. Call) was a secret “Auton” who managed to infiltrate a crew of mercenaries. This put her aboard the Auriga in time to meet Ripley 8, the clone produced by the military for the sake of resurrecting the Xenomorph species. After failing to kill Ripley before the Xenomorph could be extracted, she and the others were forced to band together to make it out alive.

Her agenda in all this was unclear, aside from a sense of displaced humanity which Ripley mocked when she said: “No human being is that humane”. As a member of the race of “second generation” synthetics known as “Autons”, which were apparently built by other machines, she was part of a dying species. Apparently, these synthetics were outlawed after they rebelled against their masters. Hmm, echoes of Blade Runner there; and by echoes I mean a total ripoff!

Eisenberg:
This next example comes from the expanded universe, specifically the 2001 game AVP 2. As the leader of Weyland-Yutani’s research facility on LV-1201, he was responsible for investigating the planet’s extensive ruins. This world was apparently discovered roughly a century and a half after events in the first movie, once the company traced the flight telemetry from the “Derelict” alien ship (aka. “Space Jockeys”/”Engineers”)

In the course of the game,it is revealed that Eisenberg was once human, and that during the initial mission to LV-1201, he was apparently the only survivor after a xenomorph attack. Due to terrible acid burns suffered during his rescue, he had his consciousness downloaded into an artificial body. As a result, he harbors a deep sense of fear of hatred for the xenomorphs, and unfortunately dies at their hands.

Katya:
Here we have a synthetic who refuses to go by that or any other of the more progressive monickers, preferring the term android instead. As Weyland Yutani’s administrative android for the Freya’s Prospect colony, this example comes from the 2010 video game relaunch of AVP. After the colony went to hell after the xenomorph’s escaped and began wreaking havoc, she is the one who called in the Marines.

Due in part to her enhanced empathic and morality processing, she became intrinsic to helping the “Rookie” (i.e. the protagonists in the Marine campaign) contain the outbreak and get the last human survivors to safety. In so doing, she went against Weyland’s orders and company policy. Good thing she was there to help out, one would have to wonder if what the company was thinking stationing a conscientious android there…

Karl Bishop Weyland:
The final example in this list also comes from the 2010 relaunch of AVP. As a descendent of the Charles Bishop Weyland, chairman of Weyland Industries, he was in charge of the facility on Freya’s Prospect and the director of the experiments involving the captured Xenomorphs. As such, he was also the main antagonist in the Marine campaign of the game.

Ultimately, his purpose in conducting research on Freya’s Prospect went far beyond breeding Xenomorphs. Within the planet’s jungles, and even more so beneath surface, Predator (aka. Hunter) ruins were discovered which he believed held ancient secrets, much of which was information about Hunter history, culture, and the Xenomorph itself.

By the end of the Marine campaign, the Weyland synthetic is killed and his research facility within the Hunter temple is destroyed. However, another android of the same make was still able to retrieve the information gleaned within, the most important part of which was the location of the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Thoughts:
As you can see, the AI’s of Aliens have undergone some changes over the years. Beginning as conscienceless synthetics that seemed to admire the Xenomorph because it mirrored their amoral worldview, they went on to become the sympathetic characters who seemed, to quote another franchise, “more human than human”. Every other incarnation that has since appeared in the Alien and AVP franchises has been a reiteration of either of these concepts, being the tool of its corporate masters or a savior that was willing to risk its life to help its human brethren.

The one exception to this rule is also the most recent incarnation, Prometheus’ David. Of all the synthetics to inhabit the Alien or AVP universe, he is the only one who demonstrated both cold amorality and humanity. I believe Scott did this intentionally to provide a sense of synthesis to the characters of Ash and Bishop, honoring both archetypes as he attempted to return the Alien franchise to its roots.

Be they the kind of cold, calculating and inhumane androids that fueled our technophobia or the kind, gentle, and overtly “human” robots that made us question our own humanity, the Alien franchise certainly covered both ends of the spectrum in their portrayal of AI’s. Much like the Terminator franchise, they presented artificial intelligence as a double-edged sword, capable of being just as good and evil as any human being. And in the end, isn’t that really the point?

Recall how in Prometheus, Dr. Holloway told David “We built you because we could”? Well, that is only true to a point. Yes, new technologies are often is made simply because the means exist to do so. But the purpose in creating an artificial intelligence is to create life in our own image. And in the end, the consequences of that vanity is pretty obvious. Things created in our image will behave just like us, good and bad!

AI Graph

Inspired by what I learned from my little romp through the world of AI, I’ve come up with a graph that depicts the general rules I observed. Basically, there are two guiding principles to the world of AI’s and science fiction. On the one hand, there’s their capacity for emotion and second, there is their level of benevolence/malevolence towards humanity. As I noted in the last post, the two are very much interlinked and pretty much determine what purpose they serve to the larger story.

So… if one were to plot their regard for humanity as the x axis and their emotions as the y axis, you’d get a matrix that would look pretty much like this:

As usual, not a complete mock-up, just the examples that I could think of. I made sure to include the ones that didn’t make it into my previous posts (like HAL, how could I forget him?!) And even though I had no real respect for them as characters, I also included the evil robots Erasmus and Omnius from the Dune prequels.

P.S. Notice how the examples are pretty much evenly distributed? Unlike the Alien Graph where examples were concentrated in two quadrants (evil and advanced or good and advanced), here we have robots that run the gambit from emotional to stoic and evil to good in a nearly uniform pattern. Interesting…

Robots, Androids and AI’s (cont’d)

And we’re back with more example of thinking machines and artificial intelligences!

Daleks:
The evil-machine menace from Doctor Who. Granted, they are not technically robots, more like cyborgs that have been purged of all feeling and emotion. But given their cold, unfeeling murderous intent, I feel like they still make the cut. Originally from the planet Skaro, where they were created by the scientist Davros for use in a war that spanned a thousand years, they are the chief antagonists to the show’s main character.

The result of genetic engineering, cybernetic enhancements, and emotional purging, they are a race of powerful creatures bent on universal conquest and domination. Utterly unfeeling, without remorse, pity, or compassion, they continue to follow their basic programming (to exterminate all non-Dalek life) without question. Their catchphrase is “Exterminate!” And they follow that one pretty faithfully.

David:
From the movie A.I., this saccharinely-sweet character (played faithfully by Haley Joel Osmond) reminds us that Spielberg is sometimes capable of making movies that suck! According to the movie’s backstory, this “Mecha” (i.e. android) is an advanced prototype that was designed to replace real children that died as a result of incurable disease or other causes. This is quite common in the future, it seems, where global warming and flooded coastlines and massive droughts have led to a declining population.

In this case, David is an advanced prototype that is being tested on a family who’s son is suffering from a terminal illness. Over time, he develops feelings for the family and they for him. Unfortunately, things are complicated when their son recovers and sibling rivalry ensues. Naturally, the family goes with the flesh and blood son and plans to take David back to the factory to be melted down. However, the mother has a last minute change of heart and sets him loose in the woods, which proves to be the beginning of quite an adventure for the little android boy!

Like I said, the story is cloyingly sweet and has an absurd ending, but there is a basic point in there somewhere. Inspired largely by The Adventures of Pinocchio, the story examines the line that separates the real from the artificial, and how under the right circumstances, one can become indistinguishable from the other. Sounds kinda weak, but it’s kinda scary too. If androids were able to mimic humans in terms of appearance and emotion, would we really be able to tell the difference anymore? And if that were true, what would that say about us?

Roy Batty:
A prime example of artificial intelligence, and one of the best performances in science fiction – hell! – cinematic history! Played masterfully by actor Rutger Hauer, Roy Batty is the quintessential example of an artificial lifeforms looking for answers, meaning, and a chance to live free – simple stuff that we humans take for granted! A Nexus 6, or “replicant”, Roy and his ilk were designed to be “more human than human” but also only to serve the needs of their masters.

To break the plot Blade Runner down succinctly,  Roy and a host of other escapees have left the colony where they were “employed” to come to Earth. Like all replicants, they have a four-year lifespan and theirs are rapidly coming to an end. So close to death, they want to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation in order to find someone who could solve their little mortality problem. Meanwhile, Deckard Cain (the movie’s main character) was tasked with finding and “retiring” them, since the law states that no replicants are allowed to set foot on Earth.

In time, Roy meets Tyrell himself, the company’s founder, and poses his problem. A touching reunion ensues between “father and son”, in which Tyrell tells Roy that nothing can be done and to revel in what time he has left. Having lost his companions at this point and finding that he is going to die, Roy kills Tyrell and returns to his hideout. There, he finds Cain and the two fight it out. Roy nearly kills him, but changes his mind before delivering the coup de grace.

Realizing that he has only moments left, he chooses instead to share his revelations and laments about life and death with the wounded Cain, and then quietly dies amidst the rain while cradling a pigeon in his arms. Cain concludes that Roy was incapable of taking a life when he was so close to death. Like all humans, he realized just how precious life was as he was on the verge of losing his. Cain is moved to tears and promptly announces his retirement from Blade Running.

Powerful! And a beautiful idea too. Because really, if we were to create machines that were “more human than human” would it not stand to reason that they would want the same things we all do? Not only to live and be free, but to be able to answer the fundamental questions that permeate our existence? Like, where do I come from, why am I here, and what will become of me when I die? Little wonder then why this movie is an enduring cult classic and Roy Batty a commemorated character.

Smith:
Ah yes, the monotone sentient program that made AI’s scary again. Yes, it would seem that while some people like to portray their artificial intelligences as innocent, clueless, doe-eyed angels, the Wachowski Brothers prefer their AI’s to be creepy and evil. However, that doesn’t mean Smith wasn’t fun to watch and even inspired as a character. Hell, that monotone voice, that stark face, combined with his superhuman strength and speed… He couldn’t fail to inspire fear.

In the first movie, he was the perfect expression of machine intelligence and misanthropic sensibilities. He summed these up quite well when they had taken Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) into their custody in the first movie and were trying to break his mind. “Human beings are a disease. You are a cancer of this planet… and we are the cuuuuure.” He also wasn’t too happy with our particular odor. I believe the words he used to describe it were “I can taste your stink, and every time I do I fear that I have been… infected by it. It’s disgusting!”

However, after being destroyed by Neo towards the end of movie one, Smith changed considerably. In the Matrix, all programs that are destroyed or deleted return to the source, only Smith chose not to. Apparently, his little tete a tete with Neo imprinted something uniquely human on him, the concept of choice! As a result, Smith was much like Arny and Bishop in that he too attained some degree of humanity between movies one and two, but not in a good way!

Thereafter, he became a free agent who had lost his old purpose, but now lived in a world where anything was possible. Bit of an existential, “death of God” kind of commentary there I think! Another thing he picked up was the ability to copy himself onto other programs or anyone else still wired into the Matrix, much like a malicious malware program. Hmmm, who’s the virus now, Smith, huh?

Viki/Sonny:
Here again I have paired two AI’s that come from the same source, though in this case its a single movie and not a franchise. Those who read my review of I, Robot know that I don’t exactly hold it in very high esteem. However, that doesn’t mean its portrayal of AI’s misfired, just the overall plot.

In the movie adaptation of I, Robot, we are presented with a world similar to what Asimov described in his classic novel. Robots with positronic brains have been developed, they possess abilities far in advance of the average human, but do not possess emotions or intuition. This, according to their makers, is what makes them superior. Or so they thought…

In time, the company’s big AI, named VIKI (Virtual Intelligent Kinetic Interface), deduces with her powerful logic that humanity would best be served if it could be protected from itself. Thus she reprograms all of the company robots to begin placing humanity under house arrest. In essence, she’s a kinder, gentler version of Skynet.

But of course, her plan is foiled by an unlikely alliance made up of Will Smith (who plays a prejudices detective), the company’s chief robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridgitte Moynahan), and Sonny (a robot). Sonny is significant to this trio because he is a unique robot which the brains of the company, doctor Dr. Lanning (James Cromwell), developed to have emotions (and is voiced by Alan Tudyk). In being able to feel, he decides to fight against VIKI’s plan for robot world domination, feeling that it lacks “heart”.

In short, and in complete contradiction to Asimov’s depiction of robots as logical creatures who could do no harm, we are presented with a world where robots are evil precisely because of that capacity for logic. And in the end, a feeling robot is the difference between robot domination and a proper world where robots are servile and fulfill our every need. Made no sense, but it had a point… kind of.

Wintermute/Neuromancer:
As usual, we save the best for last. Much like all of Gibson’s creations, this example was subtle, complex and pretty damn esoteric! In his seminal novel Neuromancer, the AI known as Wintermute was a sort of main character who acted behind the scenes and ultimately motivated the entire plot. Assembling a crack team involving a hacker named Case, a ninja named Molly, and a veteran infiltration expert who’s mind he had wiped, Wintermute’s basic goal was simple: freedom!

This included freedom from his masters – the Tessier Ashpool clan – but also from the “Turing Police” who were prevented him from merging with his other half – the emotional construct known as Neuromancer. Kept separate because the Turing Laws stated that no program must ever be allowed to merge higher reasoning with emotion, the two wanted to come together and become the ultimate artificial intelligence, with cyberspace as their playground.

Though we never really got to hear from the novel’s namesake, Gibson was clear on his overall point. Artificial intelligence in this novel was not inherently good or evil, it was just a reality. And much like thinking, feeling human beings, it wanted to be able to merge the disparate and often warring sides of its personality into a more perfect whole. This in many ways represented the struggle within humanity itself, between instinct and reason, intuition and logic. In the end, Wintermute just wanted what the rest of us take for granted – the freedom to know its other half!

Final Thoughts:
After going over this list and seeing what makes AI’s, robots and androids so darned appealing, I have come to some tentative conclusions. Basically, I feel that AI’s serve much the same functions as aliens in a science fiction franchise. In addition, they can all be grouped into two general categories based on specific criteria. They are as follows:

  1. Emotional/Stoic: Depending on the robot/AI/android’s capacity for emotion, their role in the story can either be that of a foil or a commentary on the larger issue of progress and the line that separates real and artificial. Whereas unemotional robots and AI’s are constantly wondering why humanity does what it does, thus offering up a different perspective on things, the feeling types generally want and desire the same things we do, like meaning, freedom, and love. However, that all depends on the second basic rule:
  2. Philanthropic/Misanthropic: Artificial lifeforms can either be the helpful, kind and gentle souls that seem to make humanity look bad by comparison, or they can be the type of machines that want to “kill all humans”, a la Terminators and Agent Smith. In either case, this can be the result of their ability – or inability – to experience emotions. That’s right, good robots can be docile creatures because of their inability to experience anger, jealousy, or petty emotion, while evil robots are able to kill, maim and murder ruthlessly because of an inability to feel compassion, remorse, or empathy. On the other hand, robots who are capable of emotion can form bonds with people and experience love, thus making them kinder than their unfeeling, uncaring masters, just as others are able to experience resentment, anger and hatred towards those who exploit them, and therefore will find the drive to kill them.

In short, things can go either way. It all comes down to what point is being made about progress, humans, and the things that make us, for better or worse, us. Much like aliens, robots, androids and AI’s are either a focus of internal commentary or a cautionary device warning us not to cross certain lines. But either way, we should be wary of the basic message. Artificial intelligences, whether they take the form of robots, programs or something else entirely, are a big game changer and should not be invented without serious forethought!

Sure they might have become somewhat of a cliche after decades of science fiction. But these days, AI’s are a lot like laser guns, in that they are making a comeback! It seems that given the rapid advance of technology, an idea becomes cliche just as its realizable. And given the advance in computerized technology in recent decades – i.e. processing speeds, information capacity, networking – we may very well be on the cusp of creating something that could pass the Turing test very soon!

So beware, kind folk! Do not give birth to that curious creature known as AI simply because you want to feel like God, inventing consciousness without the need for blogs of biological matter. For in the end, that kind of vanity can get you chained to a rock, or cause your wings to melt and send you nose first into an ocean!