Westworld Premiere

Mr. Nolan, in a previous interview, you mentioned some people in Silicon Valley were hesitant to talk too much about the state of artificial intelligence, just because of the competition involved. What sort of research were you both able to do?

Nolan: I’m a believer in doing a certain amount of research and then stopping before you do so much research that you find yourself lost in a thicket of … Obviously, with the show, we’re pushing into the future a little bit. We had some interesting conversations with some interesting people who had insight there. I think people were reluctant to be on the record talking about it because there is a bit of an arms race thing that’s happening in Silicon Valley right now with AI.

Google and Facebook are two of the bigger players. This will become the essence of their business. The concept of an AGI or a machine intelligence that can approximate and think like we do makes what Google and Facebook do that much more efficient and compelling. Advertising is limited in its impact because it’s so often wrong. It’s showing you the wrong product. Consider all the time that you spent watching, you know, feminine hygiene commercials. It’s being played for the wrong person, right?

The second that you can fine-tune that advertising and have it deliver to you the thing that you really want or the things that you didn’t even know you wanted. For them, it’s a market-driven reality. I think we’re probably closer to it than we imagine we are, based on the conversations that we had. I mean, look, people were paying some attention when DeepMind beat the world Go champion earlier in the year, but that’s a landmark moment. The press tried to bring attention to it, but IBM had beaten chess years ago, so the significance of the moment with Go was, “We don’t have any more complicated games that we can play.” That’s as complicated as it gets, right?

The idea that we’re now subordinated to the machine in all of our most rule-based intellectual pursuits means that, on some level, on a somewhat esoteric level, we’re already there. Now, as you watch that creep into the softer sciences and everything else … You know, I welcome the day when our robot overlords can take over the scriptwriting on our behalf, and we can just watch. [Laughs] That would be very exciting.

The limited glimpse that we had into the state of the art of what’s happening up there made us feel … I mean, that’s just Silicon Valley. Who knows what’s happening in China? Who knows what’s happening in other places around the world? This is one of the reasons why we found the subject so compelling. We live in the moment before. We live in the moment in which AI could not exist. We’re approaching it asymptotically. There will be an after.

I think part of the reason why so many smart people are going public with their concerns, whether you’re talking Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk, that AI is being developed in a proprietary, closed way. Pushing for Elon’s open AI initiative is an effort to make sure that at least everyone understands that this sort of stuff is available to people so when we make AI, it’s not a proprietary, closed system. There’s a lot of really smart people who are very worried about the way this is happening, but part of the problem is us.

By “us,” I mean TV and television producers and writers and filmmakers because we’ve spent so much time dealing with this subject as science fiction. We’ve done such an effective job of making it seem like a dystopian nightmare that I don’t think … I love all those movies, but you have exceptional pieces like Her, the Spike Jonze film from 2013 that had a very nuanced, very original take on what our interactions with AI would be like, one that I found quite inspiring.

Otherwise, we’ve convinced everyone this is 30 years in the future, and it’s dystopian. No, it’s going to be more subtle and complicated than that. It’s closer to us that we think. In fact, it’ll probably happen, and we won’t realize it’s happened. I think that everyone is so focused on the singularity of the idea that will be this massive, on-rushing, and overwhelming set of events. I’m actually more interested in the idea, and the show certainly explores the idea that it could happen, that two things could happen.

One, that we could reach that moment more subtly than we imagine, that we could slip over that barrier without realizing it. Two, and this is a slightly more worrying version, that we would continue to move the goal posts, in part because we don’t like things that challenge our primacy. We don’t like the idea that our machines would be as smart as we are.

By some measures, the Turing test has already been passed, right? I mean, there’s an international Turing competition every year, and a couple of years ago, a pretend 13-year-old boy from Russia, by the terms of the competition, won, right? The judges were unable to determine that this was a piece of software as opposed to a real person. Then with the immediate backsliding of like, “Yeah, but it wasn’t but … Yeah …” I think this is probably going to creep up on us a little bit. Part of what the show deals with is the idea that we’ll redefine what sentient is ever so slightly further than whatever we’re dealing with in the moment.

Westworld Seasons

When it came to realizing Westworld, how thorough did you and everyone get with the rules and the inner workings of the park?

Joy: I mean, thorough enough that you look like an insane person at the beginning of the show. As we were starting out, we had a wonderful, creative, original movie, but we’re really expanding it and converting the world significantly. Before even embarking on writing the pilot, we wanted to feel sure that we understood the story, where it could go and the depths of some of the things that we wanted to explore, and that included an understanding of the world and the rules of the world.

Though we don’t explicitly address rules that much within the episodes, there is certainly an underlying rule set. The reason you don’t explicitly address them is because we’re trying to root it in the hosts’ point of view and gradually come to understand how the world works with them, to be mystified by it sometimes but then to realize the underlying logic of it becomes clear. Certainly a part of the thinking about theories has been mapping out the loops of all the different hosts, some them major characters, some of them minor characters. It’s really exploring a bunch of different storylines that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg on.

Then it involves maps of what Westworld actually would look like and different towns within it and what those towns would involve and the different mythologies that would exist there. That’s a constantly fun thing to engage in. It’s kind of like playing with a giant set of intellectual Legos and just building and building and building.


Westworld airs Sundays at 9 PM on HBO.

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