The year is 2058, and the world population is run by an artificial intelligence. Welcome to the new (West)world order.
Westworld season 3 episode 1 takes the original premise of the series, the idea that conscious robot “hosts” in a theme park are stuck on the vile and abusive loops to entertain guests, and applies it to a greater society living the Silicon Valley dream. Just as Google wanted to make all knowledge free and accessible, and Facebook hoped to create a central hub of communication and information, the fictional corporation Incite imagines a fully optimized world where each person knows exactly what they should be doing, and how they should be doing it. The result is influential enough, or at least key enough to the mysterious new plot, that the now park-free Dolores wants to bring the whole thing down.
The Westworld season 3 marketing campaign has been teasing Incite’s power for some time, and episode 1 may only be the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what fans falling down every ARG rabbit hole already knew about Incite going into the premiere, and what we can glean from episode 1.
[Ed. note: this post contains mild spoilers for Westworld season 3, episode 1.]
What is Incite?
“My dad thought the biggest problem was unrealized potential,” Liam Dempsey Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.) accidentally tells an undercover Dolores in the Westworld premiere. “If you could chart a course for every single person, you could make the world a better place.”
Using a high-tech artificial intelligence called Rehoboam, named after the first king of Judah, the executives at Incite program click citizens of the world into the “perfect” path. That means controlling everything from their job to when they commute down the 405. Incite’s Rehoboam is basically the ultimate guidance counselor.
In the lead up to the season 3 premiere, HBO unveiled Incite all too appropriately at CES, bringing a faux Development co-chair, who gave a verbose, TED talk-ish speech that played well for the tech journalists in attendance.
HBO also buried a secret Incite advertisement for the company on one of the official sites. The video, featuring co-founder Liam Dempsey Sr., explains the optimistic sales pitch for having your life completely run by artificial intelligence.
The Incite website is also full of utopian logic. From the About page:
Are you living your best life?
By the time you retire, you’ll have switched careers seven times.
By the time you find love, you’ll have been in seven to eight relationships, and had your heart broken twice.
Is the world the best place it can be?
In the past 3,400 years, humanity has been at war 92 percent of the time. Wars killed over 108 million people in the 20th century alone.
By the time we reach 2100, the global temperature will be 10 degrees higher. The ice poles will melt and the rainforests will be deserts.
Incite believes we can chart a path to a better future, for you and for our world. Our values are your values. Let us find your path.
Incite is not Delos — because the Rehoboam AI might be worse
The tail end of Westworld season 2 saw Dolores and her fellow hosts bringing down the Delos-owned park from the inside, and murdering many a board member. She also discovered that Delos had been downloading guest information in order to potentially one day clone their persons into hosts. As a disclaimer on the official Delos Destinations website acknowledged shortly after things went berserk in the park
By entering the Delos Destinations Port of Entry, you acknowledge that Delos, Inc. controls the rights to and remains the sole owner of, in perpetuity: all skin cells, bodily fluids, secretions, excretions, hair samples, saliva, sweat, blood, and any other bodily functions not listed here. Delos, Inc. reserves the right to use this property in any way, shape, or form in which the entity sees fit.
Incite is not Delos. In fact, the company at the heart of season 3 might be Delos’ worst enemy, judging from some ARG documentation on the Privacy Act of 2039. When the pre-season Incite website first went live, Delos sent an email to all users that they would now be adhering to new rules set forth by the company in concert with Congress. From a FAQ on InciteInc.com:
Let’s get real. We all know your data is out there. But it’s your data. It’s your life. And the person who benefits from that should be: you.
After years of lobbying from Incite and other privacy advocates, Congress has finally taken a stand against Big Data companies. Recent class action lawsuits and Congressional subpoenas have exposed decades of corruption in Silicon Valley. Now, the days of corporate exploitation and political manipulation are finally over. Going forward, all companies will have to comply with strict consumer privacy protection laws that will allow you to control your data.
Starting today, your life will be yours again.
Q: What does Incite have to do with it?
A: Congress has partnered with Incite to ensure the Privacy Act is strictly enforced. We are donating our revolutionary algorithms to help monitor and regulate the entire technology industry, setting a global standard for consensual data collection and handling. Together we will pave the way to radical data transparency.
Q: Will this change my day-to-day life?
A: It’s hard to admit that we’ve all gotten used to the ease that comes with companies having access to our personal information. But Incite doesn’t want to send society back to the dark ages. We promise to be the one company you can trust to make sure your data works for you.
The Privacy Act of 2039 prevents advertisers from taking advantage of consumers, and puts your data in your hands. Our mission is to make sure you benefit from your own data, to sort through the chaos and show you what you like, what you want, and what you need. We will help you make the choices that are right for you, not for advertisers. We will help you find your path.
What does Dolores want with Incite?
Though we see members of Delos scrambling to save face in the crisis of the host revolt, Dolores doesn’t seem to be concerned with what happens to her former parent company. (Maybe that’s because she handled it already while posing as Charlotte — time will tell!) Instead, she’s on the warpath against Incite, and to put it another way, against the strongest artificial intelligence on the planet. As she tells one ex-Incite executive at the top of the episode about her info gathering: “Think of it as a startup. The origin of a new species.”
The moment recalls a key conversation in the season 2 finale between Bernard and the lingering voice of Dr. Ford.
Bernard: I always thought it was the hosts who were missing something or incomplete, but it’s them. They’re just an algorithm designed to survive at all costs, sophisticated enough to think they’re calling the shots, to think they’re in control, but they’re really just...
Bernard: Is there such a thing as free will for any of us or is it just a collective delusion, a sick joke?
Ford: Something that is truly free would need to be able to question its fundamental drives, to change them. Our hosts. Here you are. The last of your kind. There’s only one question left to ask. Is this the end of your story or do you want your kind to survive?
The only way to truly be free in the year 2058 is to destroy those who control the loops. And whether you’re human or host, that means destroying Incite.