What Questions Does “Humans” Suggest Real Humans will have to Consider When this Level of AI is Real?

The pilot episode of Humans (2015) touches on a lot of big philosophical questions. One of them is the value of human labor when a massive population of Synths is at humanity’s disposal.

The oldest daughter of the Hawkins family, Mattie (Lucy Carless), used to be a straight-A student. When her recent report card comes home, her parents discover she has a D in computers. Her nonchalance is explained as she raises a powerful point - “so what?” She asks what the purpose is of studying for seven years to become a doctor when someone can reprogram a Synth to become a doctor in ten minutes. There’s a lot of complexity in Mattie’s character that the show can explore. A few scenes later, she turns off the television when the family is watching a press conference about Synths, but continues watching it after retreating to her room. But her character poses a good question: What’s the point of a human when Synths can perform all the same tasks - and in most cases, do them better?

Though renowned physicists and scientists have warned against humanity’s construction of artificial intelligence of this level, our cultural obsession with smart tech makes it seem inevitable to happen.

Humans not only sets up the examination of big questions like those above, but dabbles with the daily and familial hurdles of living beside a synthetic creature that so perfectly resembles a human. The Hawkins family’s youngest daughter sees the household Synth Anita (Gemma Chan) as a friend, and at times, a replacement mother. Anita reads to her (“She doesn’t rush!”) and checks on her at bedtime. The family son Toby (Theo Stevenson), a teenager, can’t help but oggle the anatomically-perfect “woman” living in their home. And Laura, the mother, is challenged and embarrassed by Anita’s very existence, from the Synth’s proficiency at tending to the family’s needs to her obvious physical beauty. That jealousy appears valid, as her husband Joe (Tom Goodwin-Hill) is shown casually slipping Anita’s “18+” programming packet into his pocket during a family evening in the living room, despite maintaining an outward impression of “she’s just a robot here to do laundry.” Anita is Joe’s way of reprimanding Laura for not being a great mother, whether he realizes it or not.

The show raises inquiry about the role humans will expect similar technology to have in our everyday lives - all while fiddling with the apocalyptic current that runs through nearly all advanced technology science fiction that questions whether or not we’ll be given the opportunity to define that role before it’s too late.

“Disconcertingly plausible and emotionally complicated, these are the kinds of scenarios that civilization will have to ponder before the arrival of the singularity, if there’s chance to ponder anything at all.” - Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic