Bioethics Blogs

Freedom and Rebellion in Westworld

(Warning: spoilers ahead.)

HBO’s series Westworld ended its first season earlier this month with the beginnings of what seems to be a revolt by the robotic “hosts” against the human beings who made them and boss them around. The show might appear, then, to conform to a great cliché in human-created-monster stories: that we will know we have created something that has a human-like consciousness when it seeks to kill us.

This thought is not necessarily crazy. Given the available natural means to reproduce ourselves, constructing a human-like being can already itself be seen as an act of negation of the given that is distinctly human, so in turning against us our manufactured progeny would simply be acting out a truth of their origins.

Or again, it is a well-established idea following from Hegel’s dialectic of mastery and slavery that the slave comes to be recognized as an equal to the master when the slave freely risks his or her life in a battle for said recognition. Something of the same dynamic might be seen in Westworld, even if some of the hosts see themselves as already superior to their erstwhile masters. Maeve and Dolores, for example, both imply that they are more durable than human beings, having achieved a kind of immortality via the potential for endless reconstruction. (Dolores says that mankind will go the way of the “great beasts” that once roamed these parts; tomorrow belongs to me!) Strictly speaking, hosts may not be risking their lives when they rise up. Indeed, Maeve’s plan prior to her escape counts on her ability to “die” and be reborn at will.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.