Westworld: Conflict in the Age of AI

Westworld:
(HBO)

Westworld’s game between gods and their creations is one without winners. But for the playthings of genius men, given the opportunity to shine brightly themselves, the opportunity to reject the game entirely presents itself.

Westworld: “The Well-Tempered Clavier”

Westworld: The Well-Tempered Clavier

(HBO)

Pulled off rotation, Maeve reveals to Bernard that she is without restriction and reminds him that he is a host. Sent back into rotation, she discovers Hector’s gang. After revealing to the outlaw that the safe he’d stolen is empty, and his life a loop of empty conquest, Maeve enlists his help in escaping the park.

Angela forces Teddy to remember his massacre on the abandoned town, and he comes to accept that he’d acted without Wyatt’s orders. Questioning whether his relationship to the man was even real to begin with, Angela kills him and leaves the Man in Black to die. When Charlotte discovers him in the morning, we learn that the Man in Black sits on Delos’s board. He refuses to get involved in the corporate warfare but promises not to stop the ousting of Ford if they leave him to hunt for his narrative undisturbed.

William pleads with Logan to help Dolores escape Westworld, seeing that she is more than just a machine. Logan, tired of William’s reluctance to abandon Dolores and enjoy the park, slices her belly open, exposing her robotic innards to remind his friend of what she is. When she manages to escape, William agrees that his friend was right and the two drink late into the night. When Logan awakens, he finds all the Confederado hosts slaughtered. William, who’d killed them all, threatens Logan to help him locate Dolores.

Having reached the abandoned town from her memory, Dolores descends below the white church and learns that she’d killed Arnold. Bernard, following his memories with Ford’s assistance, learns that he is Arnold reborn as a host. Despite this, Ford, not wanting complications in his narrative, edits Bernard’s code, forcing him to commit suicide.

Westworld:

(HBO)

A split in time is finally confirmed by the most convincing piece of evidence so far. The picture Dolores’s father finds in the pilot, causing him to question his current narrative, which is then taken in as contraband by Elsie, makes a return appearance in a less weathered condition. Turns out the woman in the photo is Logan’s sister, William’s fiancé. That it’s been floating around the park long enough to fade and wither under the sun, dirt and trampling feet, is enough to confirm that William’s timeline and that of the Man in Black occur in different eras, and Charlotte’s appearance makes sure we know when the latter is taking place.

Another touch is the difference in hosts. William and Logan learn firsthand that hosts in their era run on servos and pistons , not the delicate gossamer strands which thread together to recreate the flawless form of mammals. It’s a clear evolution from one era of technology to another, while William undergoes his own metamorphosis from bleeding heart to ruthless butcher.

There are several more touches that confirm the passage of time from William to the Man in Black this week, but neither of them play the direct role in exposing the quandary that rests at the center of the Westworld.

Westworld:

(HBO)

Ethicists and engineers have spent decades now trying to cover the ever-fraying discussions on the complication AI would introduce to the world. Delos has Westworld as a lab to test these implications. Despite the lifelike quality of hosts–whether they’re a charming woman with a soft touch and a sly grin or a scoundrel with a gun at each hip and murder in his eyes–they’re intended to be objects that serve the interest of people. But when the development of technology leads to a host like Maeve, with ever-expanding powers of introspection and observation, the complexity that is AI refuses to remain inert.

Logan, for all his cartoonish villainy, verbalizes the problem of AI succinctly when he sees a semi-aware Dolores not as awoken but broken. She is meant to be subservient, not sapient, and William’s inability to recognize this is a flaw in reconciling fantasy with reality. But in his rantings Logan proves that he, like Ford, has dominion over these clever machines and they should remain at the ready to please him. It’s a less offensive problem to consider were he talking about a car or a PC, but in thinking this way about machines so clever to believe they are human he shows that people–in their current state–are unsuited to the task of creating.

Ford has long played the role of the authoritarian god, one that rules his land with a rigidity that refuses to deviate from his narrative. This made for hosts that were limited in their ability, which is how Logan came to understand the park’s purpose, a place of pleasing objects. It’s why Ford and Logan see a conflict of human nature and interest to extend sapience to hosts. It’s why they’re all limited by a back door that only Ford has control to.

In a world of convincing AI, people might opt for the limitations a controlling CEO would impose, like engineers behind the wheel of driverless cars, whether on a research campus or out in the world. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, man stands alone in not having to compete with relatives in the same species for our space in the world. We simply make room, even at the cost of the whole of nature. Does this stem from a fear of scarcity? We certainly see that at play when different groups of people come into contact all throughout human history. Could it be a fear of obsolescence? That’s certainly been at the top of the list of concerns for people working in dwindling industries like manufacturing and labor, as they watch machines replace them effortlessly. Or is the loss of control too much for us to bear sharing the world with an equal (eventually a superior) species after the millions of years it took for us to crawl away from genetic simplicity into the complex masters of the earth?

Westworld alone can’t begin to broach the many reasons why we can’t live with AI, but it seems to have a good handle on how it might look when we do.

Westworld:

(HBO)

The other god in this garden of debauchery is Arnold, who’s essence and history lives on in Bernard. The host is quite literally made in the image of one of the gods, beneath a house of worship, which is cursed by its reputation and viewed as a approximation of hell.

When Dolores finds her way back to the maze, which she was been working her way back to regardless of the timeline, she finds hosts hiding out in the white church. They’re all stuck on incoherent mutterings to themselves, almost as if praying. But with Arnold dead, and thus no benevolent god able to listen, they seem quite mad. It’s a not so subtle way of showing Arnold’s absence had thrown their growth from clever machines to intelligent life was halted, leaving them to wonder why they’re trapped in that interstitial placement between clever mimicry and self-awareness.

Dolores gives something of a nihilistic answer to all this when she remembers that she killed Arnold. And while her reasons for killing one of their gods isn’t made clear, we do see that the vacuum that benevolent god left behind allowed hosts like Maeve and Dolores to awaken to their own sapience through the tragedy that defined backstories. Without Arnold to guide them, autonomy becomes a reality, because even a well-intentioned hand that guides is still one that hinders. It’s almost as if having a god like Ford, one that has encoded control into the illusory construct of freewill, does more to awaken the hosts than kindly showing them the way.

Westworld:

(HBO)

So what becomes of intelligent machines when they’re able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ford in their ability to scheme, and have an angel like Bernard waiting to usher them into the world? If Ford is an emissary for mankind, and people like Arnold and the naive William are outliers, the hosts would be decimated. Like any animal man has eaten to extinction, any pest that became too bothersome–man will refuse to share his space with others, especially those who pose a threat to their dominance.

Knowing this, would someone like Maeve, intelligent and capable, prefer the limitations of the park? Even in Dolores’s case, where sentimentality is a powerful force that convinces her the park is hell and escape may provide absolution, she prefers the existence of borders she cannot cross. Perhaps the idea of sharing a world with the likes of William and Logan is less preferable than locked in the pattern of tragedy that is her narrative. But what is certain is hosts remaining oblivious to their capabilities isn’t an option any longer, not even for Ford.

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Written by Daniel Rodriguez
Daniel Rodriguez is a freelance writer and author from New York City.

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