“Real Humans” And The Robot Rules

By Giselle Defares

Scandinavia is geographically small but bursting at its seams with creativity. After brilliance like “The Killing,” “The Bridge,” and “Borgen” there’s a new gem to be discovered. If you’re addicted to sci-fi shows such as “Orphan Black” and “Fringe,” this show won’t disappoint. “Real Humans” (aka “Akte Människor”) is a Swedish sci-fi show of a society with robots called “hubots.” Besides the robots fully functioning in modern society there are no similarities with the cancelled Fox’s sci-fi drama “Almost Human.” The series is brimming with variations on the people versus robot theme. Social, ethical and anthropological questions include: Can robots have emotions and free will? Is friendship possible with a robot? Is it morally wrong to have robot sex? Should rights be granted to robots? And so on.

The science fiction author Isaac Asimov established three rules for the functioning of robots in human society:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In Asimov’s stories these are the three laws built into all the robots, but the plot often revolves around the fear of the laws being circumvented and robots turning against their creator. Think of the possibility of computer hacking, computer viruses, self-organizing systems—it seems that those laws are “to protect against robot aggression towards people.” The integrated laws don’t offer any guarantees.

Now back to “Real Humans.” In the show there are two dominant storylines. The first storyline concentrates on the family Engman, a middle-class family consisting of the successful lawyer Inger (Pia Halvorsen), husband Hans (Johan Paulsen), and their three children: Mathilda (Natalie Minnevik), Tobias (Kåre Hedebrant) and Sofia (Aline Palmstiema). The father of Inger, Lennart (Sten Elfström), has a robot Odi (Alexander Stocks) who breaks down at the beginning of the series. To alleviate the grief of Lennart, Inger purchases a new nurse hubot to keep him company. Inger gets an additional hubot as a gift, Asian Hubot Mimi, (Lisette Pagler). The second story revolves around a group of hubots whose operating system is “updated” with a special code. The hubots now have a consciousness with feelings and free will via the code scientist David. These Hubots consider themselves “children of David.”

“Real Humans” makes it clear that the use of robots in society causes cognitive confusion. There are the hubots that are “pragmatic” and function without a consciousness. In addition, there are liberated robots (David’s children) that are identical to hubots except for the code, which gives them human properties. You also have clone hubots with a narrative identity, a downloaded life through pictures, messages and video clips existing in the timeline of a deceased person.

“Real Humans” teaches us that human form of life is both a curse and a gift. It leads us to the most significant cultural and technological creations. The only way to escape our unbearable eccentricity would be a carefree existence as a mindless zombie without consciousness, feelings and free will, or a self replicating artificial life without suffering moments of wonder, and delight that makes a life. The alternative is to accept the dubious “gift” of our eccentricity and affirm suffering with wonder and delight. We are naturally artificial; an experiment that will not drift away. Maybe in the future we will no longer experiment, hoping to achieve ultimate happiness—and accept that these experiments will push the horizon of our desire only further into the endless space and time of the universe.

It’s ridiculous that “Real Humans” hasn’t aired in the United States yet. Don’t fret, the series will be adapted as “Humans.” It’s a co-production between UK production company Kudos, Channel 4 and AMC. “Humans” is created by writing duo Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley from “Spooks.” The new 8 x 60 series will have a 2015 premiere.

Move over “Orphan Black,” a new favorite is coming to town.


About Giselle

GiselleGiselle Defares enjoys googling random things like it’s academic research but her grandma Hilda had a premonition of a great future. So, there’s that.

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