Chances are, you’ve seen William Hurt in something. Whether you loved him in “The Big Chill” or more recently in “Into the Wild,” the man has made his mark on cinema. Now, he’s taking his talents to the small screen, with a starring role on “Humans.” The show takes place in a near-future Britain (Hurt is the only American) where people can buy lifelike, green-eyed synths to help them with their day-to-day lives. Getting a robot to wash your dishes for you sounds pretty nice, but the series also questions the bigger issues that would be involved with artificial intelligence this advanced.
That’s part of what drew Hurt to the project. “The whole series is a blizzard of those questions, you know? What does it mean to those of us who have to live the life of an ordinary day?” he says, pointing out that the show makes a point of exploring the“quiet tragedies that will happen when truckers can’t drive trucks anymore, because trucks are driving themselves. They’re going to put three million truckers out of work and that’s how their families make a living.”
While there are countless investigations into what artificial intelligence would mean (and Hurt says he’s a big Isaac Asimov fan), he’s enjoying that this series takes a look at the economics of artificial intelligence. “Industry has always done this. It’s always invented things that cash in on the very lives, the very fabric of the lives of the people who did those functions before. And history tends to forget those people because it’s so excited about invention and progress. The people who actually pay for progress are the people you never hear about.”
Synths are shown cleaning hallways, picking produce and acting as home health aides, which turns into a problem for Hurt’s George, who’s given a very bossy home health worker he doesn’t want. He’s got his own old school synth that’s slowly falling apart, but he’s using it to help him store memories of his late wife.
“Philosophically, he lives on the boundary, and I think that’s the most important place to live,” says Hurt. George was involved with the development of the synths, but backed out because he didn’t think the machines should be given sentience. “He made a decision to be a human being and love his wife, then George runs into the problems of life. He runs into a brain fritz, and loses a big chunk of his memory, which Odi [his synth] then carries for him. Odi is his son, anthropomorphized.”
It’s George’s sympathy for the synths that sets him apart from the way most people on the show react to them. “Some would say that’s a dowdy old guy who lives in a dowdy old house who can’t take care of himself, but hidden in that house is a treasure,” as Hurt puts it, describing George’s gentle relationship with Odi. “When the sentients walk into that house, they find an un-judgmental treasure, that wants them to grow into what they can be, rather than see them as a threat automatically.”