(British Sky Broadcasting and NBC Universal Television)
A source of great fear and loathing, artificial intelligence is often exaggerated on the small screen in the form of evil cyborgs, supercomputers and other automatons. Battlestar Galactica, the re-imagined series from the 1970s, is no less dystopian.
In a faraway galaxy, humans are once again pitted against the Cylons, a race of artificial beings they created. Like humans, Cylons are sentient beings, fragile in character, and have the potential for both good and evil. Eventually, the Cylons rise up and betray their masters, destroying human civilization and pursuing its remnants across the universe. In a desperate bid to survive, the ragtag fleet of human refugees seeks out the fabled lost colony of Earth.
Though the series continues the rich tradition of portraying technological nightmares hell-bent on exterminating the human race, Battlestar quickly turns the mythology on its head. With close attention to detail, it asks what it means to be human in an increasingly technological society, and examines the outcomes of machine intelligence: wide-scale devastation due to computer malfunctioning, mass subjugation and ensuing conflict, as well as the erosion of the human soul.
Historically, audiences learn, humans’ treatment of the Cylons wasn’t any better, and people are partly to blame for the destruction of their own planets. As Admiral William Adama, who leads the fleet of survivors, aptly puts it at the beginning of the series: “We once decided to play God, to create life. And when that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault. But the truth is you cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created.”
Ultimately, the series reminds us that our ability to build the future we want — not just a future we can survive — depends on our capacity to appreciate the power of artificial intelligence, as well as the implications of our use of it.
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