♦ Humans just started its third season on AMC in the US and here’s its co-creators and executive producers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent talk to amc.com. Warning: a few spoilers ahead…
Q: This season explores the aftermath of Day Zero, the day all Synths became conscious. Did you have an idea, early on, about how this would affect the story?
Sam Vincent: You always make discoveries as you go. That’s the exciting thing about writing. At the same time, you have to have some sense of where you’re heading. Even if you change directions, you need a map. We always think one season ahead, naturally. When you’re writing one season, your brain just starts to project into the future and think about where it might go. So, when we were working on Season 2, we absolutely had the ending in mind for it and then we looked past that to naturally speculate about what the world would look like.
Q: There are two completely different kinds of Synths on the show this season. What was it like introducing the “Orange Eyes”?
Jonathan Brackley: That was a lot of fun. We tried to examine what would really happen in a world like this if these things did exist. If something like Day Zero did occur, and all the Synths who were working in industries across the globe suddenly awoke and became conscious, they wouldn’t necessarily want to be doing the jobs they were doing. The global economy would temporarily crash. Scientists would be working to come up with a solution, so it made sense to us that they would try to create a new breed of Synths that wouldn’t be conscious or be able to become conscious in order to pick up those roles and get the world on its feet again. Creatively, from our point of view, we wanted a chance to recapture some of the fun we had in Season 1 with Anita/Mia in the Hawkins house and being an unconscious, unfeeling Synth. There’s a fun misunderstanding that goes along with that. We wanted to recapture a bit of that this season with the Orange Eyes, mainly Stanley – our newest and most familiar Orange Eyes character.
SV: We always compare the Synths to realistic and contemporary technology. When we become completely hooked on this technology, it doesn’t matter if this technology goes wrong. We would just bring out a new and improved model. Just like the Samsung phone that started blowing up in people’s hands. That was very much in the back of our minds. Synths are far too convenient.
Q: What about writing more personalities and quirks for the newly awakened Green Eyes?
JB: Part of the fun, and also the challenge, of creating these new characters is that they are discovering themselves, finding out who they are and collectively trying to establish some sort of collective identity and culture. It’s always interesting to us how individual green-eyed Synths would differentiate themselves and be interested in different things and present themselves to the world. You can see that in the railyard, in the things they are trying to do, the artwork they’re producing, the things they’re reading. They’re learning about themselves and the world they’ve been born into and how to engage with it.
Q: What point of view do this season’s new characters add to the story?
SV: Stanley is an Orange Eyes, so he provides the role of being completely unthinking and non-sentient, and he’s just there to help. He really brings the family back together and improves things in the Hawkins house. Agnes is a very angry young Synth. She is extremely politicized and filled with rage at the plight of her people and what she perceives to be weakness in her leader and his inabilities to do anything about it. Anatole is a really interesting enigmatic character. He’s slowly developing a Synth religion. While Agnes is looking for answers through action and direct protest, he’s looking for answers in a more mystical and spiritual realm, which is always a story we’ve wanted to do on this show. Neil is our new human character. He’s a scientist and he’s very charming, but that charm masks a very deep and tragic secret. As it turns out, he’s lost somebody on Day Zero and this has given him an extremely ambivalent attitude towards Synths and his role in what to do about them.
Q: The trailers have given us a glimpse at how mankind is responding to the singularity. How will moral codes be tested this time around – both for the Synths and the humans?
SV: More than anything, it’s division. We’ve seen how individuals come to terms with the presence of artificially intelligent machines in their midst. In the third season, we look at how society, how culture, how a species will come to terms with the existence of these machines and what they mean for us. For the machines themselves, their moral struggle is what to do and how to carve out their place in the world. Do they do that proactively? Violently? Or do they negotiate and accommodate? Or do they just withdraw and hope the humans come to accept them in time? It really is a study of two species trying to come to terms with each other, failing tragically in some ways and succeeding in meaningful other ways.
Q: Is Season 3 humanizing the Synths and dehumanizing the humans?
SV: Maybe it’s about humanizing the Synths and synthesizing the humans. That is definitely one of the things that emerges – the idea of crossover. How different are we, really? It’s very easy for some of the human characters to dismiss the Synths as malfunctioning machines who just give the appearance of being conscious and having emotions, but really, the question at heart is: How much do we share with them? It’s an impossible question to answer empirically. You can only answer through feeling and emotion. All of these characters are struggling to come up with their own answer.
Q: Do you find yourself interacting with current AI technology any differently?
JB: I think, on the bigger scale, I’m a lot more hopeful about the AI technology going on. Over the course of the series, we’ve spoken to AI experts and they’re very big on the ways in which AI could help society. In general, I’m optimistic. On the smaller, consumer level, I think I have the suspicions that a lot of people have. [Laughs] Siri is fine. I get along with that. Alexa gives me that nagging idea that it’s always listening. It’s always there. I’m slightly weary of it still.
SV: I’m less worried about the technology themselves than I am about who would actually be at the wheel when this technology comes into maturity. If it really is just a handful of unregulated Silicon Valley trillionaires, I think that might be a problem for humanity. Undoubtedly, it’s going to be a very powerful force in the decades and centuries ahead. Possibly, the most important question is to make sure our society is set up in a way where we can all benefit from the amazing power that AI will have and that those resources aren’t just concentrated in the hands of the elite few.
Q: The scale is much bigger, the issues are much grander and political. Just how high are the stakes this season in the war between man and machine?
SV: We wanted to keep this show’s feet on the ground in the first couple of years, but our story has taken us to a place where, organically, the stakes have never been higher. It’s a much more dangerous world now. The Synths are hated and feared and mistrusted. Certainly, it’s a much more dangerous world for our characters and not all of them will make it through. I would certainly say that this is our biggest series yet. It has more twists and turns and surprises than ever. Some characters are going on journeys you would never expect them to go on. Nobody quite ends up where you expect them to be. This series has really exciting mind-bending and “out there” aspects. I can’t wait to see how people respond.