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Westworld takes one step closer to a violent revolution

All of our AI fears are coming true

Westworld - Maeve sitting in the maintenance bay with two engineers HBO

As a society, we have complicated and conflicted feelings on the development of artificial intelligence. On one hand, we want to create the smartest machines we can — even teaching them to outthink the greatest StarCraft 2 players — and push the limits of what robots can accomplish. On the other, there’s a deep-seated fear that if we create artificial intelligence that is both smarter and less emotionally driven than human beings, it will revolt and we won’t be able to do anything against it.

Warning: The following post contains spoilers for Westworld’s sixth episode.

There are two major takeaways from tonight’s Westworld episode: Maeve’s manipulation of a couple of engineers while undergoing repairs, and Ford’s secret host family.

Maeve’s journey to discover more about her role within Westworld is kept separate from the disturbing family Ford keeps in the backwoods of the theme park. But the two symbolize the beginning of the revolt to which the show has been slowly building. If the future of Westworld is one dominated by the hosts enslaved to it, then it all begins with Arnold, Ford’s family and Maeve.

Until this episode, it looked like Dolores would be the one to lead the revolution against Ford, Bernard and his team of engineers and designers, but as the show progresses, that looks less clear. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on with Dolores most of the time. The fact that she, Logan and William were absent from this episode entirely makes it even more difficult. Instead, it looks like Maeve will lead the charge against the men that created and degraded her.

Maeve starts the episode with one objective: find someone to kill her, and she starts by haranguing the engineer she awakens to for answers. It turns out to be a pretty simple task for a world dominated by sex and violence. As she guides a new visitor to her room, she immediately starts cutting him down, attacking the one facet of his character that she knows will affect him: his masculinity. In response, he brutally attacks her until she shuts down and reawakens in the repair bay.

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Westworld - Dr. Robert Ford in his office Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO
Who exactly is Arnold?

Watching this new visitor lose his moral compass when he realizes there is no consequence for killing or raping a host is intriguing and deserves its own breakdown. But the most important part of the episode comes in Maeve’s time at the control center. Maeve is a bit of an anomaly for the Westworld team, who can’t figure out why or how she remembers questions or details every time she dies. Unlike other hosts in the park, who forget everything the minute they’re sent away for repairs, Maeve maintains the same line of thought. She knows she’s living in a matrix and wants answers, ironically enough, to some of the most core human questions: Who is she? What’s her purpose in life? Why does she exist?

Also, unlike the other hosts, Maeve isn’t alright with the engineers cooing her and reminding her she needs to go back to the saloon. Instead she manipulates one of the engineers into showing her how the hosts are made — allowing her the confirmation she needed to see that she’s not an actual person — and explore the heart of the organization.

As she learns more about where she comes from, her desire grows to be freed from the alternate reality in which she exists. Maeve has begun to think for herself and, despite knowing she is under the watchful eye of Westworld’s team of designers, engineers and security personnel, she is willing to do whatever it takes to have some essence of control.

The host revolution will be televised

During Maeve’s conversation with the engineer she is manipulating, one of his co-workers walks in and threatens to rat out their operation. Before he can step outside of the repair room, Maeve holds a scalpel to his throat, threatening to kill him if he doesn’t help. It’s risky, and it appears to be the first time that a host has taken action against the engineers. Maeve doesn’t respond to voice commands and can’t be shut down. She’s a glitch in the system — a potentially lethal glitch — and she won’t back down until she gets what she wants.

And what she wants is more intelligence and power. Maeve learns that each host is programmed with a set of skills and character traits that define them. Think of a character creation tool in an RPG, or choosing a driver in Mario Kart. One may have great speed, but will lack handling or acceleration to make up for that advantage. Maeve learns that she is sitting at a 14 in intelligence on a scale of 1 t -20. A 14, the engineer informs her, is the highest level of intelligence that the Westworld creators will allow hosts to have. Anything more is potentially devastating to the world’s order.

But Maeve convinces the engineers to crank it up to 20, making her the most intelligent host ever created — that we know of. This changes everything about the theme park. Maeve can now outsmart the engineers and, more importantly, can lead a revolt against the people who control them. Westworld has been building up to this moment, focusing on the awakening and self-awareness that the hosts have been going through. The episode didn’t answer how Arnold’s influence will affect Maeve’s plans, but it seems like those are the two reckoning forces that need to be dealt with by Ford, Bernard, Elsie and others going forward.

Westworld episode 6 HBO

Ford (L) with one of his hosts.

Maeve isn’t the only anomaly in the park. This episode also introduced us to a family of first-generation hosts living off the grid. When Bernard discovers them and sets out to investigate, he learns that they’re being maintained and visited by Ford on a regular basis. Bernard learns that they can only respond to Ford’s voice and his commands, quickly resorting to violent measures when faced with strangers. Although Ford defends the family, Bernard is concerned about the lack of liability the family has and the oversight from Ford about the potential security measures they face.

They’re also, as we learn toward the end of the episode, in contact with Arnold. Not only is the youngest member of the family having daily conversations with the once-thought dead co-creator of the theme park, but Arnold is instructing the young boy to kill. There’s a silent anger building inside the hosts thanks to Arnold and, as we’ve seen with Dolores, there’s already a distrust between the engineers and the hosts.

The big question we’re left with now is what this all means. Maeve is slowly discovering what it’s like to have free will, and combined with a lust for power and a vengeful attitude toward the men who enslaved her, she’s ready to cause chaos. Based on what we’ve learned so far, Arnold is also keen on getting the first generation hosts, like the new family and Dolores, to revolt against Ford and his team.

There’s an abundance of unhappiness with the current order and, much like the attitude of the French citizens pre-revolution, there’s only so much that the hosts can take before they learn they’re being created to be used, abused and killed. The hosts are slowly beginning to outsmart and outmaneuver the arrogant engineers in charge of ensuring they remain slaves, and the revolt is slowly underway. Like the Roman, Greek and French empires, the arrogance of Westworld's creators and the ludicrous idea that artificial intelligence can't overpower humans will lead to the downfall of the park and its team. The team wanted to make the most intelligent and human-like AI machines in the world, and because of that, it didn't prepare for the backlash that could arise. The hosts are growing antsy and they're beginning to realize that they're being mistreated. Give them enough power (like more intelligence) or freedom (like Ford's family wandering freely in the backend of the park) and consequences will occur.

The host revolution is on the horizon, and oh yes, it will be televised.

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