The robot theory of 'Humans'


By Kim Batchelor, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 1, 2015

The British-American science-fiction series, “Humans,” follows a group of artificially intelligent robots called Synths who are different from the other Synths who are manufactured and sold commercially. These Synths are special because they have the ability to think on their own and to feel.


Series Premiere

The episode is a bit of a slow burn, focusing on the introduction of the world in which Synths exist and the characters rather than action. The dialogue is important, though, and if the audience has difficulty understanding English accents one ought to consider closed captions. The interpersonal interactions are what drive the show.

The main protagonist, Anita (Gemma Chan, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”), is a member of a special group of Synths who have been kidnapped and reprogrammed. She is struggling with resurgent memories and emotions during her assignment to a family. Gemma plays the role with dignity and poise, making her performance believable. Despite this, she invokes an emotional response in the viewer as we sympathize with Anita's plight.

Colin Morgan (“The Fall”) plays a Synth supporter named Leo who travels with and protects the group of Synths as his family. In fact, it was his father who created these Synths. His character is hard to get a read on as Leo plays everything close to his chest. This is a self-preservation technique, but as a result it is difficult to figure out what his motivations are as a character and access him emotionally. He comes off as stand-offish and vaguely threatening. Hopefully, more backstory will be given on why these Synths are different, how they are related to Leo and why they are on the run in the first place.

The family dynamic built by the Hawkins family, consisting of Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill, “Mr. Selfridge”), Laura (Katherine Parkinson, “The IT Crowd”) and their three kids is humble and believable. Because of the subtlety with which these actors perform, the dialogue between the parents and their kids isn’t forced. This is particularly true for Lucy Carless (“Code of a Killer”) in her portrayal of teenage Mattie. Mattie is a brilliant hacker with a bad attitude towards Synths. Despite her typical teen angst she actually really loves her family and it’s her character that forms the glue that bonds the Hawkins together. Also, Sophie (Pixie Davies, “Utopia”) is incredibly adorable.

The father and son relationship built between George Millican (William Hurt, “Damages”) and his Synth, Odi (Will Tudor, “Game of Thrones”) is heartbreaking. George relies on Odi’s memories of his deceased wife, Mary, because he cannot remember her himself, but Odi is getting older and beginning to breakdown. Despite Odi’s inability to connect with George on an emotional level, the viewer can’t help but root for the pair to stay together. To lose Odi would be, for George, to lose the rest of his family.

A stand out performance comes from Emily Berrington (“24: Live Another Day”) in the role of Niska, a Synth who was stolen along with Anita and forced into the role of Sex Worker. Despite the fact that it must be both physically and emotionally painful for her, Niska refuses to turn off her pain receptors, stating, “I was meant to feel.” And as she feels pain, so does the audience.

“Humans” has many references to classical AI/Robot theory and literature, sighting the Three Laws of Robotics by Issac Asimov, which prevent a robot from harming a human, and the Technological Singularity, in which AI is capable of recursive self-improvement and humanity is made obsolete. Beyond this it also brings up moral and ethical philosophical debates to consider. For example, already in our own world robot girls are being created in Japan, are sexbots in our future too? And at what point would a robot be considered conscious enough for such an act to be considered rape, as it surely was to the character Niska? What is consciousness? What is a human and who has rights? What makes us different from machine?