Ana SayfaGaia in EnglishAn evolutionary reading of the tv series "Humans" - 1

An evolutionary reading of the tv series “Humans” – 1


“Man is just a weak reflection

In evolution’s history.”[1]

Science fiction as a genre is usually inspired by scientific knowledge and tries to keep reasoning while speculating on the future’s society. Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) ideas and its domino effect on scientific thought have been dominating the world since “On the Origin of Species” (1859)was first published. Naturally, Darwinian terms have a significant influence on the science fiction genre especially if the show contains conscious robots.

The occurrence of anthropomorphic robots as a new species and its world-shattering impact on human society make Evolutionary Theory and its influence on modern thought the keystone of the logic established by the story’s plot. By virtue of robots, science fiction genre displaces sensitive social issues like racism or sexism so that we -as human beings- can question our civilization for change. In this paper, I am going to trace the Evolutionary Theory’s influence in the science fiction TV Series Humans. What makes Humans special to be the subject of this paper is it’s hopeful, more pro-peace and less militarist point of view while mimicking the contemporary world’s social problems.

The connection between Evolutionary Theory and science fiction

Humankind has always been inspired by nature and its laws. In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi composed the “Four Seasons” imitating the sounds of nature which is one of the great artworks and a pioneer in the history of music. After Charles Darwin’s “The Descent of Man” was published in 1871 its evolutionary perspective influenced both science and literature. The naturalistic explanation of existence instead of divine creation and notions like constant change had a revolutionary effect. Today, in the 21st Century, Evolutionary Theory is still paving the way for the transformation of technology and human consciousness.

Daniel Dennett, a philosophy professor at Tufts University, claims that the idea of the first computer which was invented by Alan Turing, relying on the same principle of evolution: “What Darwin and Turing had both discovered, in their different ways, was the existence of competence without comprehension”(Dennett). In other words, the complicated and untraceable but still arithmetic methods of evolution is highly similar to the logic of computers. The unconscious physical substance -like plants or animals- in the nature is executing a highly complex operation called “evolution” perfectly for thousands of years and another unconscious matter called “computer” is operating other kinds of complicated operations for almost a hundred years now: “The Central Processing Unit of a computer doesn’t really know what arithmetic is, or understand what addition is, but it “understands” the “command” to add two numbers and put their sum in a register — in the minimal sense that it reliably adds when called upon to add and puts the sum in the right place. Let’s say it sorta understands addition” (Dennett). Another aspect of artificial intelligence technology is the usage of Darwinian principles. Researchers are using the “survival of the fittest” principle to provide a healthy evolution of algorithms.[2]

Though evolutionary principles are being used in computer science, it is not yet proven to be applicable to artificial intelligence. Science fiction has always pushed the limits of scientific facts. Mental evolution of the “conscious machines” is taken for granted in productions which includes A.I. technology. Thus, the robots become a new species and their interaction with humankind inevitably causes social change. Norman Spinrad pointed out, technology has a high impact on society and vice versa:

“In the last half of the 20th century, technological innovations, alternations in man’s external environment, have proceeded at an ever-accelerating rate. The result has been rapid and fissioning evolution in human consciousness itself, for consciousness is the interface between internal and external realities. We have entered a state of permanent and on-going transformational evolution. Our consciousness and our technological environment have entered in a feedback relationship which virtually guarantees permanent ongoing evolution of human consciousness” (qtd. in Bassett et al. 19).

I think, science fiction is the embodiment of the above-mentioned interaction between human beings and technology. It is no surprise that the word “robot” was first introduced to languages by a writer Karel Čapek in his play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” in 1920. Science fiction’s futuristic perspective indirectly contributes to the transformation of both science and moral values of humanity: One popular example for the former is “the attribution of the invention of the communication satellite to Arthur C. Clarke” (qtd. in Bassett et al. 19).

A striking example to the latter is the worldwide use of V mask in protests like “Occupy Wall Street” or “Gezi Protests in İstanbul” referring to the 2005 movie V for Vendetta produced by Wachowski Sisters. Though V for Vendetta is not in the category of science fiction its futuristic core proves my point: “…words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth” (00:19:46-00:19:54). The interaction between literature and science provides an atmosphere to question the meanings not only as individuals but also as species: What is humans’ place in nature? What happens if we play God? What kind of future do we want?

The TV series Humans gives the opportunity to explore social issues in a possible future society which is in high interaction with technology and inevitably evolving. The co-writer Sam Vincent says that “All human worries, all worries about mankind, it helps if you discuss them by displacing them slightly. … So if you create artificial intelligence and you call it a thing that doesn’t actually exist in the world right now that is imminent, it allows you to discuss the problems that are actually troubling humankind” (McIntosh).

Analysis of Striking Incidents and Characters in terms of Evolution

“Struggle for Existence”

“Struggle for existence” or “struggle for life” is the term referring to the competition between organic beings to survive. Natural historians used the idea to explain the struggle for resources between species. Based on Thomas Malthus’s Population Theory, Darwin explained that organic beings’ population tend to increase in a geometrical ratio. However, the complex relationship between the factors like a limited amount of food, epidemics, climate and the struggle between animals restrains a possible population explosion. Darwin himself underlines that the term “struggle for existence” is being used metaphorically. Though “all organic beings are exposed to severe competition”, two species can struggle with each other “in a time of dearth” as well as “a plant on the edge of a desert” struggles against the drought (Darwin, “The Origin” 50-51).

In Humans, an aspect of “struggle for existence” is about the distribution of resources. The laissez-faire nature of capitalist society substitutes human labor with robot labor.  The synths occupy a great deal in the job market which increases the competition of labor force. As a result, the employed population has to face the risk of unemployment and new generations lose their hope for the future. This fact becomes the major reason of people’s rage against synths.

In the first episode of Season One, we witness Mattie’s anger as a college student. She is quite talented in computer science, still, her grades drop and she expresses her despair by explaining the fact that it is impossible for a human being to learn as fast as a synth:

“Laura: Gone from an A to a D in computers?

Mattie: Got harder this term.

Joe: Oh, come on, that’s bollocks! We all know what an amazing mind you have. If you apply yourself, you…

Mattie: Yeah. I could be anything I want, right? What about a doctor? That would take me seven years, but by then you’ll be able to turn any old Synth into a brain surgeon in seven seconds.

Laura: We just want you to do your best.

Mattie: My best isn’t worth anything.” (00:24:05-00:00:24:23).

In the last episode of season three, a group of people attacks the synths in the containment area. One of the assailants articulates the domino effect of the synths’ existence on his monetary and family problems:

“Mia: We know you want to fight. But we do not want to fight you.

Max: If you attack us, we will defend ourselves. But we will not fight.

Mia: We want peace, brother.

The Assailant: I was a mechanic. I loved my job. I was good at it until one of you took it. I couldn’t keep up on my mortgage. My wife left, took the kids. You want peace? Well, I want my life back.”(00:24:37-00:25:15).

In these two cases, the struggle becomes cruel as if the synths and humans are members of the same species. Darwin clarifies that “…the struggle almost invariably will be most severe between the individuals of the same species, for they frequent on the same district, require the same food, and are exposed to the same dangers” (Darwin, “Origin” 60). Despite the fact that synths and humans are not the species of the same genus, synths become predator to human beings in two dimensions: First as a substitute, -without any intention- their cheap labor force threatens humans’ employment and second, as a conscious creature they share the same environment, the city of London and the resources like electricity or mechanical supplies.

The second example of “struggle for existence” is the extermination of synths by humans after Day Zero. As Darwin mentioned, in nature “all plants and animals are tending to increase at a geometrical ratio… the geometrical tendency to increase must be checked by destruction at some period of life” (Darwin, “The Origin” 53). However, the occurrence of conscious synths in an instant breaks the linear order of things in nature and mankind subconsciously intervene to provide the natural order. They neither evaluate the possible opportunities conscious synths would bring to humanity nor consider the fact that these creatures are conscious now and know the meaning of death. Though it looks like a cleansing of dysfunctional robots, in a subconscious level it goes beyond ordinary. Humans cannot endure the idea of a new species which has been created by people and yet smarter and stronger than them. William Graham Sumner asserted that “man alone is capable of progressive improvement” (Darwin, “The Descent” 40) and occurrence of a new species threatens man’s authority on earth.

Another interpretation of the genocide or cleansing of the synths can be based on Darwin’s assumptions on extinction. He highlights the fact that “as new species in the course of time are formed through natural selection, others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct. The forms which stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement will naturally suffer most” (Darwin, “The Origin” 85). In Humans case, though there is no selection of nature, man’s cruel attitude in the competitive labor market creates an atmosphere of “artificial selection”. However, middle or lower classes are not the only ones who have synth-phobia. The extermination decision is made by government forces and it would be no exaggeration if I claim that on a subconscious level, every human being is aware of the fact that “each new variety or species, during the progress of its formation, will generally press the hardest on its nearest kindred, and tend to exterminate them” (Darwin, “The Origin” 85): The administrators unconsciously believe that if people do not attack first, they will be the victim. The human-centered cosmos view feeds the fear of stronger species. Hence, xenophobia appears.

[1] Haggard. Eppur Si Mouve. Drakkar Entertainment, 2004. CD.

[2] For further reading:


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