Am I A Robot?
I recently watched the entirety of Westworld on TV. I loved it. Beautifully shot, written, acted and scored. What a wonderful premise and how marvellously layered it is. There is plenty for a second/third viewing. I highly recommend this programme. It is intended for an adult audience. Definitely for the over 18s in my book.
For those not aware of Westworld or its premise, I'll fill you in without spoilers. Westworld is set in a futuristic theme park where the people who can afford to visit get to indulge in whatever their hearts' desire. The theme park takes on a Old West setting and is populated by 'hosts' or high-end robots who are scripted to behave in a certain way, say certain things, involve themselves in certain narratives and take on certain roles such as the bank robbing outlaw, the sheriff and the tavern madame. And when I say high-end, I mean high-end. These robots have nervous systems, circulatory systems and genitalia. They are built to resemble people. They eat, drink, bleed and it's up to you to decide if they feel or not.
I finished the final episode of the first series (another is series is currently airing) a few months ago. I found myself in tears for a lot of it. I'm doing my best not to spoil anything for anyone because this programme really is worth a watch. However, some may even consider the light explanation of themes 'Spoilers', so be warned. *SPOILER ALERT.*
I'll have to say that the robots start to become self aware of their 'loops' or narrative. Mainly because many of them are so poorly treated. Some are regularly shot and killed, patched up and reset and sent back the next day for the same treatment. Some suffer the most terrible abuse both physical and verbal from entitled people who regard them as nothing more than playthings and you may well agree that they are playthings as they are created objects intended to work for the good of those who created them. The links to slavery are palpable throughout and the noticeable lack of respect these robots are shown is sometimes appalling. There are massive social comments that can be drawn from this show. However, it is not this element that I want to talk about.
I wept a lot at the final episode because of my empathy with the robots. Even as an Aspie, I am capable of empathy it seems. In my own way. They are created beings, programmed to respond in particular fashions to the inputs received. To occasionally improvise within a set of parameters organised by their designers and programmers. Their programmers can even adjust certain personally parameters for even more variety. For example, if you take your bank robbing outlaw character with little honour, who goes around robbing, stealing and killing, you could adjust his/her sense of honour and turn their personality on their head leading them to suddenly become a hero who defends life and knows right from wrong. From a Theme Park customer's point of view, they seem entirely real. They answer questions, they feel, they express emotion and most importantly they endeavour to aid those around them. They offer support and care to everyone. I found myself thinking that I am exactly like them.
I too am programmed. I've learned responses to a set of likely inputs. My environment is my programmer, evolution, genetics and any potential deity my designer. Whilst there is no lab coat wearing scientist following me around with a tablet, adjusting parts of my personality as them deem necessary, perhaps my organic brain is a physical embodiment of that action. My narrative personality gives my life an over-arching experience factor and adjusts my personality in accordance with what is required of me. Why? In order to fulfil any role I may find myself in. As though I'm a permanent actor in a world drama, starring in my own show with a low audience rating. As an Aspie, perhaps I am no more than a functioning robot who improves with experience. In fact, the robots in the show are more functioning than I am. They are able to read those around them and have a clear thought of mind. I do not share that technical specification.
The show grapples with the ideas of identity, usefulness, servitude and self importance. Even now, as a 34 year old, I find myself struggling to cope with daily situations. I can become crippled with anxiety whilst desperately trying to understand why someone said what they said. Nondescript, slightly angered text messages are the worst. All I have to go on are words and as always I analyse them to death, pouring over what they could mean. The standard worry is how I
might have offended. Please don't say they think badly of me. I'm trying my best. I'm nice, honest. Writing all this down, I see how ridiculous it is, but I can't help it.
In Westworld, when a 'host' can't compute the input it has received, it overloads or shuts down. My anxiety, paranoid
irrationality and very rare but devastating Asperger attacks* are the organic equivalent. Am I nothing more than a well designed, organic robot? I still don't know the answer to this. I've spent a good ten days searching for the answer too. The parallels are too startling to ignore.
It all gets a bit much to think about. "Who am I?" can seem a simple question but is really a tip of an iceberg question with an unknowable amount of answers. Maybe I'm being too deep, too overly analytical. I make my own choices. I've succeeded and failed, I've won and lost and I've loved and loathed. Those experiences were mine. They have formed me and continue to form me for better or worse at this very moment. And it's that that caused me to weep in episode 10. These robots can and do have their memories removed nearly every day in order to better serve the theme park. It is a clear form of serfdom that these robots suffer and the 'real' people in the show allow it to happen because the 'hosts' are seen as property. They are created beings. They are to be used as appliances by the 'real' people.
The robotic 'hosts' in the show succeed and fail, win and lose, love and hate. Just like me. But they get reset and forget it all.
Am I a robot? I hope not. I cut myself on some glass once and saw a tendon. No mechanics in there. An organic robot maybe? I don't think so. At the end of the day, I may adapt to the inputs that I receive, I may not always understand what is going on around me. I panic, I shut down from time to time, I sleep, eat and bleed and I most certainly feel. I emote. I think I have control of those emotions on the whole. And even if I don't, I'm pretty sure on not on my own when it comes to not feeling as others do. After all, the only person I can be completely 100% sure is completely real is me. Everyone else could be the robot. Even you, dear reader.
All I know is, I am me. The society I am part of affords me freedoms to enjoy that. More freedom than most due to my privilege. My friends and family make me feel good about who me is. Some may like me, others may not. Most times I can't tell which way around that is, but who cares. I'm me. At least, I think I am.
*An Asperger attack is pretty much when every sensory input swamps me completely, usually resulting in a sort of panic attack. I'll shout, sometimes scream, either shrink into a ball or burst like a firework. I've not had a fully fledged Asperger attack for years but the memories of them are awful.