In a talk at E3 on Tuesday afternoon, Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan discussed the influence of video games on the popular HBO series — including the Grand Theft Auto series, Portal, Perfect Dark, and Bioshock Infinite — and the dangers that loom as artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated.
Nolan, who grew up playing video games, says that although the original Westworld 1973 movie written by Michael Crichton preceded the modern video game industry — Pong came out only a year prior, in 1972 — but “what’s incredible about that film is how much [Crichton] intuited about how games would work.”
A life-long gamer, Nolan says that he had long wanted to script a video game, but that he had “never realized how frustrating it would be to write a narrative where the only role you don’t get to write is the protagonist” or where the audience can refuse to participate in parts of the story or even kill off scripted characters.
“Data has no fucking conscience”
Part of what Westworld aims to explore, the pair says, is how our perceptions of morality and fiction will change as gaming experiences and artificial intelligence become more realistic. Although AI is not currently as complex as fiction’s darkest dystopian visions imagined, “I don’t know if humans are as complex as we think we are either,” says Joy. “I think we are susceptible to hacks psychologically... It’s easy to take information aggregated en masse and parse it in ways that allows the most nefarious aspects of tribalism to defeat an understanding of commonalities and nuanced discourse.”
When moderator and video game writer Tom Bissell raised the idea of the rise of smart machines — and his own skepticism about the idea of the singularity — Nolan responded that “we’re a long way out from what the show portrays, [but] I don’t think the future looks like Westworld. I think we’ll be lucky if the future looks like Westworld.”
“We’re headed into the gap in which we’ve allowed algorithmic intelligence to drive more and more of our experiences and our lives,” Nolan continued. “The data is starting to take control. But the data has no fucking conscience … We talk a lot about artificial intelligence but we don’t talk a lot about artificial morality or artificial sanity, which I think is actually something we should be a little more concerned about ... We shouldn’t be scared of artificial intelligence; we should be scared of artificial stupidity.”