Set in an alternate reality present, Humans explores what it could be like if we had the technology perfected to create super-intelligent human-like robots. As it is an alternative reality, the show is very realistic, with the only exception being that there are robots to do menial labour, household chores, specialized tasks, and dangerous missions. That contributes to how scarily close to normal this series feels. We can easily see how useful such robots would be – they could collect garbage and answer phones; clean and cook; look after senior citizens; or determine the safety level of a crime scene, for just some of many examples. Robots are considered to be merely machines, which for the most part, they are.
Except, inevitably, inventors keep inventing and perfecting. Once we created humanoid robots, it would only be a matter of time before trying our best to make them conscious and as human as possible. That is because humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize things – and if we can do it with cars, boats, and animals, we would definitely do so with robots that look human. This is explored in the show: some owners get attached to their robot (call a synth) and refuse to replace it like a worn-out computer; others treat their synth like a pet, such as wanting to take their synth to public outings like plays and movies (although, unlike a dog or cat, I really can’t see why this is a problem, especially if the owner paid for a ticket for them); and still others feel a strong attachment to their synth that they are hurt and disappointed, even if they understand why, when their feelings are naturally not reciprocated.
Of course, the natural next step would be for a robot to be at least able to mimic human consciousness. However, what we find out is that the inventor went much further than that: he created sentient robots with full consciousness. Separate lifeforms, in other words – that naturally would compete with humans.
Because the robot characters are generally fit and lovely – idealized forms of people – the actors playing the human characters are especially normal in their appearance. The main characters really are “the family next-door”. Everyone, from the teenagers to the elderly, look rough-around-the-edges and not like they are out of a catalogue. That also lends to how scarily normal and relatable the story is. The characters act like one would expect them to, or even how one would expect oneself to act or react to a given situation.
I really enjoyed this show, not just because of its implications, but because the characters were compelling. The human characters were relatable, but also the synths were fascinating. The conscious ones were human-like, but still exhibit characteristics that would not be human: they had little regard for long-term self-preservation, for example. They also are children in adult bodies, but also wise from all of the information in their central processors. If information is not in their central processor, they can wirelessly connect with computers – perform the equivalent of an advanced Internet search simply by closing their eyes momentarily. They do not have to eat or drink – only charge, which is something like eating and sleeping at the same time. They have distinct personalities, so some of them are more human-like than others.
Of course, humans do have the right to be afraid. These robots are designed to be superior to people. If they had the ability to reproduce themselves, it would mean they were no longer under human control. Over the course of the series, they discover a computer program that could indeed give more synths consciousness. The next question: will they use it? How?
Like a good British series should, it is only eight episodes and tells a complete story, leaving open some plotlines while closing off others. There will be another season, so it remains to be seen if the computer program becomes a tool for good or evil.
And that will largely depend on your perspective – is it truly evil to want to reproduce, to give free will to others? Is it evil to enslave something that is alive, even if it is a machine? After all, saying that you built and programmed it is not much different than saying that you gave birth to and raised a child – you still do not control or own said child, so why should you control or own a sentient, conscious humanoid machine?