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12 crucial questions raised by 'Westworld'


Westworld season 2

Note: Spoilers ahead for previously aired Westworld episodes, along with potentially spoiler-y speculation for future episodes.

Chaos has broken out in "Westworld."

By the end of the first season of HBO's sci-fi western drama, the meticulously constructed rules of the artificial world at the heart of the show had collapsed.

Guests in Westworld were no longer safe as they interacted with the park's artificially intelligent "hosts"— gunslingers, brothel madams, a farmer’s daughter, Native Americans, and more. Instead of being able to terrorize, shoot, and sleep with the park's robot hosts as they pleased, park visitors and Westworld's designers became vulnerable to violence from the same characters they'd abused for years.

It was the latest bloody twist in the mysterious tale, and surely there are more to come in season two, the second episode of which airs on Sunday.

Along the way, "Westworld’s" story has confronted all kinds of uneasy questions — mainly scientific and philosophical — about the complex intersection of technology and people.

Here are some of the most interesting questions the show has led us to consider so far.

SEE ALSO: Freud's interpretation of why we dream may be wrong — here's what's really going on

Do we all live in a simulation?

For a time, all the hosts in Westworld woke up to go about their day — working, drinking, fighting, whatever it entailed — without knowing that their entire existence was a simulation created by the park’s designers.

Physicists and philosophers say that in our own world, we can’t prove we don’t live in some kind of computer simulation.

Some think that if that is the case, we might be able to "break out" by noticing errors in the system.

Westworld's hosts seem to have caught on to exactly that. The question for them now is what life is like outside the simulation.

Can we control artificial intelligence?

Each time the park woke up (or the simulation restarted), the hosts were supposed to go about their routines, playing their roles and reciting the same lines until some guest veered into the storyline, triggering them to adjust accordingly. The guest might go off on an adventure with the host or they might rape or kill them. Whatever happened, when the story reset, the hosts' memories were wiped clean.

Except it didn't quite work that way, and hosts started to remember — and resent — how they were treated. The Delos employees at the park lost control.

Right now, real-life researchers of artificial intelligence believe that out-of-control AI is a myth and that we can control intelligent software. But then again, few computer and linguistic scientists anticipated that machines would learn to listen and speak as well as people — and they are getting closer and closer to that point.

How far off are intelligent humanoid machines like those in Westworld?

Behind the scenes at Westworld's headquarters, advanced industrial tools can 3D-print the bodies of hosts from a mysterious white goop (at least, when those hosts aren't in open rebellion). Perhaps the material is made of nanobots, or some genetically engineered tissue, or maybe it's just plastic that's manipulated by some as-yet-undisclosed technology.

There's a lot of mystery around how hosts are created. What powers these strange constructs? How are the batteries recharged, if at all? Can (and how do) they feel pain and pleasure?

As we've seen in several episodes, the "thinking" part of the machines is located in the head (under some very real-looking brain tissue). But what is that little device? 

Nothing like these automatons exists in the real world, but researchers and entrepreneurs are working hard to advance soft robots, ultra-dense power sources, miniaturized everyday components (some down to an atomic scale), and other bits and pieces that might ultimately comprise a convincing artificial human.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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