AMC's Humans tackles a lot of tough territory. As science fiction, it takes us into a world similar to our own but different in that technology has advanced to such a degree that synths, or robotic forms of artificial intelligence, have taken over human jobs and human lives.
However, the soul of Humans comes from its title, because the series also tackles the complications of human lives, including those day-to-day problems that families face, as well as dealing with humans who suffer from very human occurrences, such as disagreements, childhood issues and loss.
However, this humanity seems echoed in the synths, particularly in a group of rogue machines that have become self-aware. At times, those synths seem as human as, well, humans, and ultimately, the series asks the question, "What exactly makes someone (or some thing) human?"
In a recent interview, Humans' stars Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Selfridge) and Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), who portray Joe and Laura Hawkins on the series, talked about their roles as a married couple with a family surrounded by this technology.
Humans airs on AMC on Sunday nights.
Humans' setting is an alternate timeline of our present, and in this timeline, obviously, artificial intelligence is more advanced than what we have right now. As actors, what was it like being in that version of our world?
GOODMAN-HILL: It didn't feel too different from where we are now. I feel like you've just kind of got a walking, talking version of Siri. You're trying to deal with the kind of conversations that people already have about interacting with artificial intelligence, whether it be online or in the jacket pocket.
It just allows you to have a debate about that, with a walking, talking version of that AI. So setting it in a world that feels very much like our own means that people are forced to engage with that argument and actually think about what it would be like if your iPad had legs.
Also, I think what makes the show interesting is that artificial intelligence is something we're hearing a lot about right now. In the show, we get a mention of the singularity. We've been warned by guys like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk that that is a possibility. Do you believe that AI will actually exceed human intelligence?
PARKINSON: Oh yes. I started out as of a few weeks ago thinking that possibility was the word. The last couple of weeks doing some publicity things made me believe that it's inevitable and it's around the corner and possibly going to happen sooner than we thought. That's not necessarily a terrifying, awful thing. It's a wonderful thing, first and foremost. It's about knowing that there might be detrimental consequences and hopefully trying to be prepared for them and manage them. So yes, but I'm quite scared.
GOODMAN-HILL: It doesn't scare me but I do think if we don't start having serious debates about it now, then in one way or another, AI will run away with us. That's not about bowing to our robot overlords. It's more about what impact it has on society. The danger, as people like J.G. Ballard predicted, is that it will fracture society: it will destroy society if everyone purely engages with their AI and stops talking to the person sitting next to them.
This is a couple that's dealing with a lot of real-life issues even though they use a sci-fi solution, such as balancing career and family. Can you comment on that aspect of your characters?
PARKINSON: Yes. I think I was very interested in playing a woman who is supposed to have it all in terms of wife and career and mother to three children. But actually, it really feels she has nothing. She feels she's coming up short in every sphere of her life. I think that's something that a lot of modern Western women feel: managing everything and having it all, they actually end up having none of it.
What do you give away of yourself when you delegate the responsibility of putting your child to bed? You sort of think that you're passing off more menial tasks to the robot, the machine. But actually, you give a bit of yourself away every time somebody else — robot or nanny — changes your child's nappy.
GOODMAN-HILL: My children are grown up. They're 19 and 17 years old. So this show came around at exactly the right time for me. I felt like a lot of the conversations that occur within the show reflect conversations I'd had with my own teenagers when they were the age that Mattie and Toby are in the show. When you add Sophie into the mix, this eight-year-old who is wide-eyed and thrilled about the whole idea of synthetics, it brings up huge questions about parenting. About how you advise your children to engage with subject matter online, with social media. It also throws up questions about security, personal security. They're important conversations to be having.