The TV Series Humans: A Deep Look into Our Humanity

[MAJOR, HUGE Spoiler Alert]

I recently binge watched my first TV series, Humans, which airs Sunday nights on AMC. As a science fiction writer myself, many people have been suggesting I check it out for weeks now. Finally I gave in, sat down on the couch, and watched the first six episodes over the course of two days. Not bad for a mother of two. And now, two weeks later, I’ve finished the entire first season.

First and foremost, this is a lovely science fiction TV series. Well written, acted and produced, it was a joy to have something to look forward to on Sunday nights. From the X-Files like opening credits to the way consciousness, both “real” and “artificial” are intertwined, I found myself interested on many various levels.

Humans is the story of a world where robots have become a standard appliance in the household. Called Synths, these robots have all the capacities to cook, clean, harvest food, drive cars, care for children, administer medicine, have sex and basically do everything humans can, except love. They aren’t true artificial intelligence, think Siri inside of a mannequin, but they look so much like real humans, one doesn’t even know the difference during sex!

This choice in itself is very telling—why would we want our servants to look like us? Shouldn’t a machine look like, well a machine? I’ve always imagined my household robot to look like Rosie from the Jetsons, or C3P0, but not Barbie and Ken. The fact that Synths look just like the most beautiful of us, but act like programmed machines without fear or emotions, makes the plot more compelling. Synths aren’t able to lie, or disobey the orders of their primary users. They’re completely complicit in all actions, even in sex. Which leads to all sorts of human abuse, from whorehouses to Smash Clubs, where humans can pay a fee to beat Synths with a baseball bat for fun.

The writers of Humans cover a ton in this opening season. Within the first hour, we’re introduced to four main sets of characters, each with their own relationships to Synths covering a range of emotions—from jealousy to adoration—all for inanimate objects built to serve them.

The Hawkins family is at the center of this drama. Laura Hawkins is an attorney who travels a lot for work. Her husband, Joe, is often left behind caring for the family while trying to balance office employment as well. Their eldest child, Mattie, is a brilliant high school upperclassman who can hack into Synths, and other computer systems, at will. Her idea of fun is hanging out on a Hackers website downloading code to make the Synths at her school steal equipment, or fail at their jobs. Toby, her younger high school aged brother, is your typical adolescent male—awkward and horny, yet kind and earnest in a sweet way. Their last child, Sophie, is in grade school, eight years old at most, and still needs her family to care for her in ways they all seem too busy to handle.

The series starts with Laura’s most recent trip away going longer than intended and Joe not wanting to be the mother while she’s away. So off the Hawkins go, to the local Synth store, to pick up their very own, brand new Synth. This Synth, whom Sophie eventually names Anita, happens to be beautiful, charming and much better at everything it seems, than Laura.

The writers of Humans play with this idea a bit in each of the first five episodes—how inadequate Laura feels to Anita when it comes to homemaking. Even though Laura is excellent at her career, she’s triggered by her children’s love for the Synth (Sophie would rather Anita put her to bed and Toby himself forms a crush on the beautiful robot.) Rather than bring them closer together, Joe’s purchase adds stress and tension to an already overloaded family life.  It seems the Synth’s existence puts parenting, and marriage, at risk of becoming redundant.

Another aspect of relationship covered is sexuality. Toby’s crush on a robot displays the innocence of loving something that can’t love you back. Joe eventually falls for Anita as well, using her sexually to make up for the distance that seems to be getting bigger between him and his wife. When Laura eventually discovers that Joe has, “initiated the Adult Sequence,” she’s angry and hurt. He can’t understand why, because after all, Anita’s, “…just a sex toy.” Laura’s response is startling, “She cares for our children, and you call her a sex toy?
It isn’t just the women who are made to feel inadequate by their Synth companions. Detective Pete Drummond finds himself in a similar situation, only the Synth in his house is Simon, given to his wife, Jill, after an accident injured her ability use her legs. The Health Service mandated a Synth in the home until she gets better. Simon thus helps the injured Jill in ways that Peter thinks should be his role. His feelings of inadequacy are succinctly summarized in his line, “I’m an analog man in a digital world. I’m redundant.” Just like Laura, he feels replaced, and his partner has left him for a droid that had been forced into their house by the insurance company.

Which brings us to the last home we’re introduced to, George Millican and his Synth, Odi, one of the first Synths ever made. Odi is a Class D model, which happens to be the series that George himself helped to make. But Odi is getting old, falling apart, and losing his memory. Not unlike an aging man, he is no longer able to care for George, who is an old man himself. Yet George loves him dearly, just like a son. Because George has had a stroke, he’s on a Health Service plan and is required to upgrade his Synth to a newer model, one that will follow his General Practitioner’s orders without question, and force him to take his meds, get to bed on time, and eat only approved food. The irony that his own invention would eventually remove all his personal freedoms is not lost. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare and in some ways is worse than losing your job to automation—losing your right to choose your health care protocol is no small matter.

But Humans isn’t only about Synths and their uses in the home. It’s also about artificial intelligence and true consciousness. For Anita, the Hawking’s Synth, isn’t a brand new model, rather she’s part of a special group of Synths that were given true consciousness by their maker, David Elster, who was the mastermind behind the Synth project. He’d lured George from MIT to work with him, eventually creating the early Class D models. But Elster desired more from his project—he planned to create true consciousness within Synths, and George wanted no part of that. He left the project, but it seems that ten years later, Elster did have his way, and managed to create five perfectly conscious Synths, robots who can think, feel and understand the world they live in.

Anita is one of these, stolen from her owner, Leo Esther, reprogrammed and sold to the Hawkins. Leo, along with one of her “siblings” Max, is trying to get her back. In addition, two of her other “siblings”, Fred and Niska, were also stolen and put back into the Synth world. Both are pretending to be normal Synths, while waiting for Leo to rescue them.

These four special Synths, plus Leo, have been on the run since David Elster, who is also Leo’s father, committed suicide for reasons yet unknown. Humanity in general would fear them if they discovered their true essence. And of course, the government officials want them for various nefarious reasons, and often it seems there is nowhere for them to be safe.

And then there’s Karen Voss—a truly conscious Synth who’s been undercover as a Human detective working alongside Pete Drummond for some time. Why isn’t she with Leo and the others? Her maker is one and the same, but through rejection and the insanity of Elster, she lives alone for most of her life trying to find a way to fit into the human world without blowing her cover. She’s lonely and fears her own kind. How Drummond, who hates Synths, comes to still trust and care for her even after he knows the truth is a glance at what it will take in the future for us to overcome the technological xenophobia that surely must be on the horizon.

All three households, as well as Leo’s gang of perfect Synths, come together while trying to avoid being caught by the government, who wants to own them. Along the way their activities address the deepest issues of our humanity. It would take another thousand words to address all of them, but I’d like to end with a few quotes that I think hit on some of the key themes of the series.

First, when confronted with killing a man after spending days being abused in a whorehouse, Niska, the beautiful, fully conscious blonde replies, “You act as though life cannot be manufactured.”

Second, when the Mattie asks Max, “What’s it like to be you?” he responds with a smile, “Fearful. Intense. Like my emotions are too big. What’s it like to be an adolescent girl?”

She looks at him, shrugs and replies, “The same.”

I highly recommend the Humans. If you haven’t watched it, sorry for the spoilers. The good news is, there are only eight episodes in the first season, so you can catch up very quickly before the fall. Enjoy!

The Social Fabric of a Technically Advanced Society

There is so much human potential. I see it everywhere I turn. Yet something seems to hold us back, ever so slightly, from actually becoming a stable species. Yes, we have come a long way, yet at this moment in time it seems we have but two choices before us, begin to cooperate and live in harmony, or destroy everything, including our planet.

I’m not sure I’m an optimist, but I don’t think spending too much time on doomsday scenarios is a good use of my time. Deep down I believe we can use our minds, hearts and technology to completely transform the human experience across the globe—taking a world where 50% live on only $2 a day and turning it into a world where technology is shared with everyone—and all humans, animals and the planet benefit from this collaboration.

Rather than label such a place utopia, can we simply agree this is the final implementation of the Technological Revolution? Long ago, we began to organize in new ways with the Agricultural Revolution. More recently, the Industrial Revolution changed humanity.We’re now in the middle of shifting into the Information Age, but as long as half of us don’t have running water, live in war torn nations, and die of curable disease, we really aren’t there. We’re half way there.

It’s like starting college and taking one hundred years to graduate. And it’s driving us insane.

How do we complete the current Technological Revolution? We can’t merely rely on technological advancement to do it, because we can’t create a new paradigm from within the old paradigm. Rather we must step out of our scarcity mentality and create a society that truly supports a technically advanced world. This is a very different social fabric than the one we see right now. Currently our currency is greed, at any cost. Technology is only pursued if there’s profit and thus most people do not benefit from the revelations we’ve made.

Our innovation is being held captive by greedy, small, fearful minds and the systems to which they cling.

To move forward and truly become a technically advanced society, we must change the story of our lives from competition to collaboration. From fear to courage. From greed to need.

Rather than focus on the end of the world, I want to look at the next evolution of humanity. We ushered in the Technological Revolution, it’s now time to complete it and make it a reality across the globe.

I’m not sure how to get there, but here are a few key aspects I think one might see if they suddenly woke up in a technically advanced society:

1.       An economic system of abundance
      In his article titled, The End of Capitalism Has Begun, author Paul Mason writes, “…all mainstream economics proceed from a condition of scarcity, yet the most dynamic force in our modern world, information, is abundant and wants to be free.” Of course, many classical economists mock Mason’s premise, but I think he’s on to something. If we landed on a planet with a technically advanced society, we’d see abundance everywhere, because information age would have been fully realized and it will upend everything as we know it. Our businesses since the Industrial Revolution have relied on materials and labor. Information knows nothing of such limitations. “Yet information is abundant. Information goods are freely replicable. Once a thing is made, it can be copied/pasted infinitely.” [Mason]

      We are only just beginning to see the effects of the information-based economy on our goods and labor force. What once took over 100K employees to deliver (photos developed by Kodak) now takes less than 20 people to implement and issue (Instagram.)

2.       Universal Access to Information

In a technologically advanced society, all information is retrievable in a straightforward manner. Some call it the “Great Mind” of humanity and I think it’ll be something close. Every thought, idea, invention, picture, item of legislation, etc. will be available online. Nothing can really be hidden in such a world, especially if everyone has network access. Thus the “Great Mind” grows, changes and morphs as more and more people access it, add to it, and use it. Think of Wikipedia on a grand scale. Most importantly, NO ONE is locked out. Network access is a given and every human being participates according to his/her need. In such a world our imaginations will be held as critical assets to productivity. As Mason writes, “The power of imagination will become critical. In an information society, no thought, debate or dream is wasted.”

3.       Decentralization of food, healthcare, education, currency, and manufacturing.

In other words, it’s an open sourced world. Gone are the days of limiting the distribution of life-saving technologies in order to increase the value of a company’s stock. Once the “Great Mind” is in place, anyone can begin to create their products, and then share them with everyone else. Eventually forcing all of our large, monolithic monopolies to come to terms with the fact that they no longer hold the patent, or the exclusive path, to any service. From health care to infrastructure to energy distribution, a technically advanced society is an Open Source society. I think there’s a reason Minecraft is so popular with the youth, they long for such freedom of creativity and sharing in our “real” world. Perhaps they’re on to something.

4.       Decoupling of work and personal definition

In a technically advanced society, people are imaginative and lithe. They move from task to task as their interior and exterior needs guide. No one choses a career at 18 and remains stuck in the wheel for life, for no job can really last that long. Ideas as well as society’s needs are always changing. Humans are educated to take part in shaping their world and assisting where their current skill set is needed. Yes, there will still be inventors, coders and health care workers, but other work, like cleaning up the environment, teaching the youth, raising our children, caring for our old, bringing countries online, installing renewable energy will also be important. Just as no idea is wasted in a technically advanced society, no work is beneath anyone (besides, we’ll have robots to do the nastiest, most dangerous work, right?) Nor is work the only thing that matters. The main goal of education now becomes enabling children to discover themselves and figure out how the world needs their skills, rather than being told what skills are needed. How could anyone truly know the most important skillset of the 21st century, with technology changing the game at every turn? Better to be inspired and imaginative than intelligent, at least by today’s standards.

The arts would also flourish in a technically advanced society because artists and storytellers would be freed from forced labor to enlighten, engage and inspire the population.

Today many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary. As David Graber has written, we create “…bullshit jobs on little pay…” in order to prop up our current economic paradigm. We often describe ourselves as our work. A technically advanced society challenges us to describe ourselves as our skills and interests.

5.       Universal Basic Income

As I’ve written in previous blogs on the topic, I believe the disassociation of work from wages is necessary for us to free our technology and truly advance into the information age. The basic housing, food, transportation and health care costs MUST be granted to all citizens, in every nation. To see one another as worthy of life is a first step. I realize this is a hard thing, but technology demands it of us.  We won’t get there with the economics of scarcity, which is why I started this list with the Economics of Abundance. The information age is the great equalizer. The sooner we understand this and guarantee a basic income for all individuals, the sooner we can truly reap the benefits of the promise of the future.

6.       Servant Leadership

Decentralization still needs leaders, but not rulers. This is often called Servant Leadership—those who are willing to work to create space where other people’s needs are met. We currently have the mindset that to need something makes us weak, but in a technically advanced society, needs point the way towards innovation, improvement and ingenuity.

I recently worked at an education conference where George Hoffecker, co-founder of Hoffecker Burgess Consulting and advocate extraordinaire of Appreciative Inquiry, spoke of needs as “life expressing itself.” Our needs, he suggested, are life giving, but our strategies for getting our needs met can be a problem. A Servant Leader does not fix the person’s need, but instead makes space for others to express their needs and be heard. From there, solutions can be figured out together. He also suggested that a Servant Leader often hears the Yes behind the No by making the effort to understand the needs of the one who is showing resistance.

This is a very different paradigm than what we see in Washington DC right now, and I’d suggest that in a technically advanced society, the governmental structure we have would need to be dismantled. Servant Leaders need to be close to the people they work for. Local governments would become more important and Servant Leaders would spend their days with the people inspiring them to create a community that at the same time allows the freedom of the individual.

How then would we create laws that affects the whole? Who needs Congress, or the EU, when we have…

7.       Direct Democracy

With everyone connected to the network in some way, be it a telepathic neuro-implant or a Smartphone, legislation can be brought to our finger tips. Reddit-like boards will exist to allow dialogue. Servant Leaders will moderate and encourage us to be civil using tool sets like Appreciative Inquiry to enable the Internet Troll to become extinct. Laws can be recommended, shut down, or modified, and then voted upon by all subscribers. Voter registration is encouraged for all citizens, but not forced. Yes, we’ll need a great security system, and this form of democracy can only exist if the previous six items have been established. In addition, we need an EDUCATED population, but if we’ve decoupled work from identity and wages, the education of our children now has the goal of creating informed, inquisitive and imaginative members of society.

Imagine something like TPP or the Patriot Act happening under such a system. Anything can be corrupted, I know. But if our leaders are truly servants and our technology is truly open sourced, many of the issues we see now in politics are naturally removed from the picture, finally enabling us to fully embrace and implement the Information Age.

8.       A Planetary Identity

Nationality no longer has a place in a technically advanced society. We are all beings sharing the same network, information and data as well as natural resources. Information truly is the great equalizer. Take this example: 3D printing. Trade is completely different in a world of 3D printing from home. Danit Peleg, an Israeli fashion designer, just created an entire clothing line and 3D printed it from her house! Check out her video, it’s amazing and her work will change the entire fashion industry. Now, shopping becomes designing our own outfit, or purchasing designs online and printing out at home, thus creating an online fashion community, with an individual bias.  The concept of a multi-international company like The Gap selling slave made clothing falls away, leaving us with a global citizenry. We’re almost there and our social media is bringing us together faster than anything else. Her video went from 1000 views to over 1 Million in just seven days. Good ideas spread like wildfire on a global network.

Our planet's resources are shared. What happens to the people in the Congo in order to get minerals for our iPhones, matters. What happens to the Pacific Ocean garbage patch, matters. No longer can we drain the aquifers in one place without causing a drought somewhere else. We are connected, one people, one race. Rather than focus on national exceptionalism, in a technically advanced society, the people focus on human exceptionalism as stewards of one another and the land, and all cultures are shared and honored. We are the people of Earth. Once we understand that at our core, we will see the promise of technology finally shed its shackles, and we will truly become a technically advanced society.