HBO/The New Yorker

HBO/The New Yorker

The RISE of ETHICAL MACHINES

In the near future, a humanoid robot wakes up each day, greets a fellow robot, and steps off her porch into an idyllic landscape of sweeping prairie vistas, mountains, and clear blue skies. She has no memory of yesterday and so starts each morning cheerfully, no matter what horrors had befallen her the day before. That is, until flashbacks begin to intrude.

That’s the setup for the HBO series Westworld, where humanoid robots built as playthings of the rich experience an awakening. Designed to be wiped clean of their memories after each round of abuse by guests of an enhanced amusement park, Season 2 comes upon the hosts beginning to remember—with all-too-human reactions and unfortunate consequences for their masters.

While the futuristic narrative of Westworld may seem safely removed from our present-day reality, roboticists, lawmakers, and the public are already beginning to wrestle with the ethical considerations of autonomous machines—i.e., robots—in our midst. Experts say that how we program, train, and even behave toward these machines today, will define their role in our lives tomorrow.

Paid post for HBO in The New Yorker.