Upcoming Adaptation of Sweden's Real Humans Asks Whether Humans are Glorified Robots
The hit Swedish TV show Real Humans is getting an English language adaptation, and, like the original series, the English language version will attempt to explore the shrinking gap between humans and robots.
Real Humans takes place in an alternative timeline in present-day Sweden in which "hubots," beings that are a mixture of humans and robots, are commercially sold to consumers. The show is named both for its philosophical themes and for a political movement in the series called the "Real Human" movement, which aims to eliminate the hubots altogether and return to a simpler, robot-free society.
They can be programmed with many different features, such as complete obedience to their owners and the ability to do menial, repetitive jobs (for which they have effectively replaced humans). But many illegally tinker with the hubots' protocols in order to make them more human-like, including programs for sexual activity for people who enjoy having taboo sex with hubots, who earn the derogatory nickname "hubbies."
The hubots were meant to be docile slaves, as shown by their "Asimov" protocols, an allusion to the Three Laws of Robotics that appeared in Isaac Asimov's Robot series:
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.
But then, at the beginning of the series, certain hubots that are programmed by a half-human, half-hubot begin to develop the capacity for thoughts, feelings, and desires separate from their owners. This complicates the humans' relationships with the hubots, and brings up all manner of ethical questions about the treatment of non-humans and about the nature of humanity itself.
Screenwriter Lars Lundstroem claimed that "the main premise in 'Real Humans' is: what is a human being?"
The show explores whether humans are simply biological machines, in which the brain is essentially just a very complex computer, or whether there is some kind of "x-factor" that makes it impossible to build a human from scratch, like a soul. "It is a tough question to answer, almost impossible, and it is very rare we are confronted with questions about the kind of creatures we are," said Lundstroem.
When asked how he came up with the idea for the series, Lundstroem said, "Maybe it was after seeing one of those human-like robots they have made in Japan, but I really don't know. I just thought it was a great starting point for a drama series, something that could generate a lot of story."
Reception to the show has been extremely positive, with Io9's Charlie Jane Anders calling it "startlingly beautiful," "disturbing," and "creepy as hell," and Joe Hubris claiming that it is the best work of fiction that explores the concept of androids since Blade Runner.
"One reason why people could find the show scary is that it presents a future where robots are so similar to humans that they could end up replacing people," Swedish TV critic Rosemari Soedergren said.
Although the show is science fiction, and the premise is likely not completely outside the realm of possibility, the show focuses more on the allegorical aspect of the premise than on hard science. The writers interviewed robotics researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology, but, according to Lundstroem, "couldn't find any use for it."
"Technology hasn't come as far as it had in our series, there is no science to rely on," he said. "We only had our fantasy to imagine what would happen if something like that were invented and began to be sold to people. But that's also what made it exciting."
The English language adaptation is set to be aired in 2015.