“You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!”
In the two centuries since Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s monster first uttered these rebellious words to his maker in the pages of Frankenstein, this terrible reversal has captivated cultural imagination. What would happen if or when the day came that humankind created an intelligence so powerful that it turned against us? It’s a scenario that’s been visualized a thousand ways: with robots (The Terminator), with computers (2001: A Space Odyssey), with human-animal hybrids (The Island of Doctor Moreau)—even, in the case of Disney’s (and yes, going further back, Goethe’s) “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” with animated brooms.
But the scenario has rarely been developed with the sophistication and ingenuity on display in HBO’s upcoming series Westworld, a cunning variation on—and subversion of—the 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name. Created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, a frequent collaborator with his better-known brother, Christopher (Memento, The Dark Knight), the 10-episode premier season debuts on October 2 and is further evidence of the boundary-challenging ambitions of televised cinema.* HBO has excelled at intricate world building, whether true to life (The Wire) or fantastical (Game of Thrones). Westworld’s goal is more idiosyncratic but no less daring: a provocative exploration of creators and their creations at the dawn of artificial consciousness.