“Person of interest” seems like another TV show in an ocean of media consumption designed to drain your real life down and hook you to main characters and their interaction but there is a secret code underlying it. I don’t think it’s just “fun to watch”, entertaining to follow and great to look at. It’s all fine (apart from John Reese who could be less stiff and less invincible like in more mature revisions of Marvel and James Bond). Female cast is brilliant (although Root and Shaw get shot in almost every episode as well without minding it too much like it was a mosquito bite) and Finch is perfect but there is much more than meets the eye. It’s built on several layers, just like Matrix (at least the first one). You can enjoy watching TV show or make your mind challenged by big questions about AI, social security and political surveillance– and all this before Snowden, WikiLeaks and Manning scandals revealed just how real this subject is.
First season is quite weak and uninspiring, dully placed in Bourne Identity convention or so it seems until you start noticing small pieces of much bigger and more interesting jigsaw puzzle along the way. From second season story line kicks in and develops into a fantastic mix of sci –fi dystopian- cyber-crime journey with very mature questions about future of humankind and society, wrapped in twisted and sometimes beautifully deceitful script. It requires patience and imagination going beyond superficial convention at times, but just like other Jonathan Nolan’s productions it’s full of hidden clues and hints from the very beginning. Like in best RPG games – random quests and items suddenly lead to a grand scheme you haven’t even suspected. It raises to a level of masterpiece in some episodes like “If Then Else” (metaphor of chess game, parallel universes and “if” statement used in coding language), “Terra Incognita” (with subtle flow between memories, hallucinations and reality), “Death Benefit” or very last episode: “Return 0”.
There is a pivotal conversation between Finch and Greer just before waking up Samaritan. They represent 2 different worlds – Finch believes that The Machine is only a tool to create more just, safe society while Greer wants to create God. Finch is like Plato in his Republic – he wants perfect system only ruled by computer, not philosophers (but equally based on incorruptible logic and reason). Greer aspires to new cyber mythology – omnipotent, despotic power of super intelligence controlling life on Earth.
Let’s think for a minute what would really happen if we submitted ourselves to this centralized AI. We are depended on it to some extend already, we call it “System” or “Them” but it’s not one, omnipresent entity but rather many competing sources of power and influence (Masons or Rothschilds for less imaginative). Apart from question of freedom, which may be overrated anyway considering what most people in developed countries do with it (or with delusion of freedom), safety, equality and prosperity based on principles of logic and unbiased algorithm must be great, right? Super intelligence wouldn’t be prone to corruption, greed, racism, vanity or other human weaknesses. Only input and best possible output. But, wait… What would happen if the same AI realized that only obstacle to happiness and prosperity is… the humankind itself? If the only way to eliminate violence is to eliminate all “bad seeds”? Without considering human nature, which may be corrupted or represent “bad code”, like Root claimed initially. What if the best way to achieve perfect society is to improve human beings – eugenics, “Brave New World”? Architect in Matrix had the same idea which resulted in apocalypse, or “SkyNet” in Terminator for that matter… So let’s leave control to humans then. Well… There might be a problem here as well.
Finch seems to think that we need to accept humans for what they are and not strive to perfection. Even if we want to create Greek gods to guide us, their goals and principles must be aligned with ours. They can never achieve total autonomy to make decisions – this would mean new level of evolution and possible end of humankind, just like so many species perished in the midst of human civilization.
Would we ever accept mass surveillance system as an insurance policy even if this means sacrificing freedom? Since we can’t do both at the same time do we prefer to be protected or free? Safe in municipal cocoon as citizens or exposed to raw life with all its dangers and uncertainties? “Vigilance” says: No, never! It’s against constitution and civil liberties. Government says: you accept it living in modern society anyway so what’s the fuss? Well, there is a thin line between intentions and deeds just as between knowledge and beliefs. Do you think you can distinguish good from bad based on circumstances, evidence and human nature? Is defending your country and killing “enemy” soldiers good or bad? Decisions are never neutral – they’re always based on ideology, beliefs, knowledge and intentions as long as we’re human. You can use nuclear fusion to power cities and improve standard of living or kill thousands of people – the same goes for information. Unlimited knowledge has unlimited capacity for abuse. When Control tries to get access to machine through Root she scoffs her saying: “It’s like giving 5 years old keys to a jet. Irresponsible and stupid”. Collecting information is not dangerous – what we do with it makes all the difference.
AI can be confined to collecting and filtering information but it’s not really AI than. More like sophisticated global database with unlimited resources. We can create an open system which will grow and learn in unhinged way to outsmart greatest human brains combined but this could mean end of humanity – even if we were always only an experiment leading to creation of digital life. This could be inevitable and this is how Homo Sapiens will go extinct. Maybe this is an alien that we always think of, product of our own imagination and fear? Digital monster that we created to save us from ourselves who is already watching us, studying us and evaluating our chances of survival in the biggest Truman Show in history.