Explaining Artificial Intelligence, Science Fiction, and Person of Interest Review


I know I’m like a decade late in reviewing the television series, Person of Interest (POI). But, I finally got to stream all its episodes – available in Amazon Prime – and am ready to talk about it, from its premise to its plot.

However, first I gotta say few things about Artificial Intelligence (AI) as that’s the central theme of POI.

I feel like a lot of people can’t really pinpoint what AI is, which is understandable because “Artificial Intelligence” sounds pretty vague.

Sometimes tech experts or corporations downplay what AI is by chalking up things like data analysis and chat bots to AI. That isn’t right.

AI is essentially a program that can emulate human intelligence. Instead of calling it the Artificial Intelligence, perhaps calling it the Artificial Human Intelligence would be more telling about what it actually is.

Still though, explaining it is very difficult because AI is still very much a concept. And truth be told, we can never artificially create human intelligence, cuz human intelligence is that effing hard to create that even the universe couldn’t create more than one species with such intelligence. Not to mention, our intelligence is constantly evolving. So, yeah, good luck creating an Ultron.

But we can create systems that mimic human intelligence. Remember the hair appointment phone call Google’s AI did? That’s a really good example of what AI is. There has to be a human aspect to the program, otherwise it’s just a plain old program that answers your questions.

The key to AI is data. Lots and lots of data. If I had a database of every conversation I ever had, including voice recordings, of every questions that were asked to me and the answers I’d given, then I could write a program that can use that database to answer questions like the way I do. Add synthetic voice to that, and voila, birth of an AI.

And the reason it’s possible is because human actions and communications are somewhat predictive, note somewhat not entirely predictive. If somebody asks me what time it is now, I won’t reply, “Pineapple,” I’ll check my watch and tell them what the time is.

Advanced AI will need records of facial expressions and body language, too, to dial up the humanness in its response.

Now that you’ve an idea of what AI is or could be, let’s look into POI.

In the POI series, there are two main characters: one, an ex CIA, John, and another, a computer genius, Harold, who had coded an AI that analyses pretty much every database in the world, including governments’ to identify probable terrorists or probable victims of terrorists. The AI refers to these people by their social security numbers.

Harold gave this AI to the US government so they could prevent terrorist attacks. However, due to some plot twists here and there, Harold has a backdoor access to the AI and can receive the social security numbers of any probable perpetrators or victims of violent crimes (other than terrorism). With that information, he and John stop those crimes from happening.

Now that is the premise of the story, not the core plot. And the core plot is the real deal that’ll keep you on the edge of your seats.

In fact, seeing the first few episodes of the series, I found it boring and stopped watching. Then after about a month, I picked it back up because I’d nothing else I was interested to see.

And boy, am I grateful that I did!

In the core plot, which unreels over a very long period of time, another AI emerges called Samaritan, thanks to some other guy’s invention. Harold’s AI, which is called The Machine, is then perceived as a threat by the Samaritan, and a cyberhunt is started by the Samaritan to find the poor little machine.

The real star of this show is The Machine. It’s one of the most, if not the most, well written AI character in the history of science fiction. I love it so much so that I cried on an episode where The Machine almost died (irrecoverably deleted). The last time I cried was when I saw Mufasa die in the theatre. So you know it takes a lot to make me cry.

Although, the capabilities of the Machine is quite far out there – and I mean really far out there – what makes me digest its fictional existence is the bare basic form of its communication.

It’s not the kinda AI that jokes. It doesn’t show much of a personality, only a little in the last two seasons of the show. The interaction between the AI and its creator is nearly non-existent except for when the social security numbers have to be informed, and even then it is done in a code, never a straightforward, “Hi,” “Hello,” communication (again, till before the last few seasons.)

This less-than-basic user interface of the AI is what sells it the best. It’s almost believable.

You can even see this difference when you see Samaritan in the later seasons, with its red accented user interface. The second I saw that UI, I thought it was cheesy.

This is why I think The Machine is so well written because most of its humanness is perceived, not shown. And we perceive it through its creator, Harold, and those who work with him. In the lack of any UI, Harold became the only way we could use to imagine The Machine.

Ironically, the less autonomous an AI appears and the more obedient it is, the more human it feels. Which kind of makes sense, because in day to day life, those who disobey and are free-thinking are thought to be unacceptable.

That said, if you’ve the time, and if you haven’t already seen this show, I definitely recommend it. Like I said before, I found the first few episodes boring, but don’t skip any, just get through them and I promise it’ll only get better with time. It’s one of the few shows where things really pick up with each season!

The Author

Web developer and writer. @rpsthecoder in Twitter.