What is Westworld?
It’s originally a 1973 sci-fi movie, created by Jurassic Park author
Michael Crichton, about a theme park where the animatronic attractions start killing the guests. Now the robots are being rebooted for a TV series that tackles the current techno fear du jour – “artificial consciousness” – while delving deeper into the concept of a resort where tourists can live out their fantasies. “What happens in Westworld stays in Westworld,” co-creator Jonathan Nolan told Entertainment Weekly. “We intend to make the most ambitious, subversive,
f–ked-up television series.”
When do we get to visit a real-life Westworld?
Walt Disney created the first-ever human animatronic – a robot Abraham Lincoln – for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and the public’s fascination with automatons such as this likely inspired Crichton’s film. But don’t hold your breath for full-blown artificially intelligent theme-park attractions. “We’re not going to reach human-level intelligence in our lifetime,” says Dr Simon Stringer of the Oxford Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence. “When you’ve worked in the field, you’re aware of the limitations that the media people may not be.”
Actually, that’s probably a good thing…
Perhaps. Some of our greatest current thinkers have voiced concerns over AI. Tesla CEO Elon Musk reckons it could be “more dangerous than nukes”, while Stephen Hawking believes “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”. Dr Stringer is more optimistic. “Science fiction has always stimulated the imaginations and ambitions of scientists and engineers,” he says. “It’s made an overwhelmingly positive contribution in advancing the fields of AI and robotics.”
More murderous machines in movies and TV
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” is probably the politest version of “Computer says no” you’ll ever hear. Original paranoid android HAL’s dispassionate congeniality masks one of cinema’s most enduring AI psychopaths.
The Terminator (1984)
Unimpressed by the robot FX in the original Westworld – essentially a circuit board beneath a prosthetic face – James Cameron created ”an indestructible machine, an endoskeleton design”, with a nuclear winter caused by a sentient defence computer.
Itchy & Scratchy Land (The Simpsons, 1994)
A riff on Westworld where the mechanical cats and mice at a decidedly Disney-esque theme park go on the rampage. Euro Itchy & Scratchy Land, thankfully, is unharmed.