Illustration by Sam Woolley | Photos via Getty Images

First, let me tell you what Person of Interest is. Person of Interest is the inverse of Game of Thrones. For every shock death from the HBO’s version of George R.R. Martin’s book series, it had Kevin Chapman getting maced by a model and beaten up with a handbag. For every Game of Thrones setpiece that sent 49 bloggers into an ejaculatory frenzy over the ambiguous motives and bloodlines of royals, Person of Interest had a scene where Jim Caviezel kicks seven shades of shit out of the cardboard archetype of a bad person. It’s weird watching Jesus throttle people, but you know what, we’re all going to Hell anyway.

[Warning, reading this may spoil the show. But really, you could read an entire synopsis and the show would still be fantastic.]


Caviezel’s John Reese is a former CIA agent that you’re introduced to as a piss-stained, beardy hooch-swigging hobo sitting on a subway train. In one of the most satisfying scenes in TV history, a group of rich dickheads yell at him on the train and attempt to take his booze, which he clings to with an iron grip. He then proceeds to beat them up with his somehow-not-atrophied CIA skills before grabbing one around the throat and giving him the deep, angry stare of a man who uses his pants as a toilet and just wanted to enjoy his train booze in peace.

It’s a great introduction to the show in its purest sense. Peel back the layers of intrigue, spywork and social commentary, and you’ll still find a TV show that brings back the pure joy of seeing people you don’t like getting beaten up. There are no pretenses to prestige here.

The plot’s easy enough to explain. Michael Emerson’s Harold Finch builds an advanced AI (“The Machine”) for the government, in hellish post-9/11 paranoia, to monitor all surveillance and communication feeds to predict and apprehend terrorists. He then learns, to his horror, that the government is classifying everyday violent crimes and their victims as “irrelevant,” ignoring the fates of normal people who were about to get the shit beaten out of them or killed.


Somehow, in ways they explain with surprising eloquence many seasons later, Finch finds Reese, convinces him to join his higher calling, and introduces him to The Machine. It spits out the social security number(s) of the victim - or as the show eventually oh-so-cleverly hoodwinks you with, the perpetrator - and Reese is dispatched to do things like stand in their way as they turn a corner and say “wrong way, fellas!” before kicking their asses.

When he’s arrested for the crime of being fucking awesome and beating up a bunch of shitheads who had it coming, he meets Taraji P. Henson’s Joss Carter, a detective hunting down a corrupt organization within the NYPD called HR. For reasons that are barely explained, HR assigns the world’s best/worst cop Lionel Fusco, played by Kevin Chapman, who in his first of many acts of dick-tripping manages to make some very minor mistake that a CIA agent can easily take advantage of. This ends up with John Reese not killing him as long as he’ll be his mole at the NYPD.

So far, so normal.

I’m not totally sure how Person of Interest got made, let alone how it survived five seasons on CBS. Season One is mostly an enjoyable, reliable procedural - the Ruth’s Chris of TV - where you’re guaranteed to see the Asshole of the Week get bludgeoned by Caviezel’s handsome, suited fists. Reese gains the world’s stupidest and most obvious nickname (“the man in the suit,” because he’s a man in a suit), and the show unsubtly begins discussing Batman-style vigilante themes through cops yelling “this guy’s gonna put us outta da job!” and “I like da guy beatin’ up da bad guys!” Carter has fully sided with Finch and Reese, and it seems like the entire thing is going to be 25 seasons of Jim Caviezel putting people through windows. Fine.


John Paul Filo/CBS

Then you’re hit with Episode 19. Flesh and Blood opens with a “gotcha!” that anyone could see coming - five numbers at once, and they’re all the heads of the separate mob houses. The show’s already introduced Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars’s dad) as the amazingly brutal and cold Carl Elias, but now he’s planning to off them all. The show had previously thrown up a few obtuse, minor examples of moral questions, but this one goes whole hog as Carter has to protect five of the worst criminal shitheads ever. They bada-bing and bada-boom generically around her, but the interplay between her, Reese and Finch is more cerebral - they’re all kind of sitting there saying “maybe we should let this asshole kill the other assholes,” before all of them admit that they’re not God, nor are they judge, jury or executioner.

But within that interplay comes the central issue of Person of Interest: irrelevant and relevant numbers. The five mob bosses’ deaths could be a good thing, but they’d also open up a vacuum for someone else to take power: Elias. And what if the bosses don’t die? Won’t more people die? What’s the right move? What’s a better society: One where these five houses are brought down by one of their own, or one where the police successfully Al Capone them, bringing them down by legal means? It’s the first time the show suggests that the rule of law shouldn’t be twisted for the greater good.


Moral imperialism would gradually become the central plot theme of Person of Interest. The government knows best. The police know best. The mob knows best. Elias’s new mob (“an efficient enterprise. There’s no infighting, there’s no conflict over territory”) and The Machine’s team. Despite our heroes being “the good guys,” every other faction, in their own minds, are working toward their versions of a good society.

Then Elias, in his ruthless attempt to be the “civilized” guy, kidnaps Carter’s son, leading to an amazing setpiece set to Unkle’s “Burn My Shadow”. “Last chance, Lieutenant, those immoral, corrupt men, or your son?” Elias yells at Carter as he burns his way through a metal-plated door. This is pulp with a brain.

“To me, it represented an entirely new type of show,” says producer and writer David Slack, who worked on every episode, bar the pilot and the final half of Season Five. “It had procedural elements, but it wasn’t a procedural. It was a ‘70s paranoid thriller packed into 42 minutes. It predicted the rise of the American surveillance state in which we now live, and it was subversive as hell. I remember routinely being amazed that we were getting away with talking about this kind of stuff on a network TV show.”


Past Season one, the network that airs The Big Bang Theory put on a show that brutally and unforgivingly considered government surveillance, artificial intelligence, authority and morality. The show portrays each character as having a central loneliness - an irrelevancy to society, a sadness that leaves them dead to the world, ignored or laughed at. Fusco, a single dad working for a corrupt organization; Shaw (a later addition), an asset of Northern Lights (aka: the government’s anti-terrorism interpretation of the machine); Root, a runaway obsessed with computers; Finch, a guy who realizes he’s accidentally created the end of the world; and Reese, a guy who gets home from the CIA trying to kill him to find his ex-wife’s abusive husband has beaten her to death. Carter, a former army interrogator, is the only one who hasn’t totally resigned herself to, on some level, giving up.

They’re united at first only by the machine’s numbers, a consistent quest to save those that society has decided aren’t important enough to save—much like our main characters themselves. Then they realize that an AI that can read any surveillance feed and manipulate most of society is a bad thing, only to end up using it at the end of Season 2 in the aptly-named “God Mode,” when Reese is given an earpiece that the machine uses to tell him exactly where to shoot. Midway through Season 3 we see the truly batshit level at which Person Of Interest has been operating, as we’re introduced to the competing surveillance system Samaritan - run by the magnificent asshole that is disenfranchised former MI5 fanatic John Greer - and we watch as a congressman is slowly manipulated into installing Uber For Eugenics.



The push-pull between relevancy and irrelevancy - the machine still, until the very end of the show, spits out random dipshits that the team has to save - is central. While you could imagine a horrible culture piece saying “we’re all reduced to numbers in the social media society,” giant data brokers make millions buying and selling information you may not even realize is out there. Though the show liberally stretches the definition of how far an AI could go, it’s grounded in the horrible reality that, yes, you may have posted on Fucklr that you grew up in a particular city and your best friend is Dave. Tinder, an app used by millions of horny people, literally leaked said horny people’s locations. It’s not a huge leap to Person of Interest’s world. They can monitor things like the internet and cell phones, because they were given access to do so by the government, in a way that sounds absolutely nothing like ECHELON.

Person of Interest’s first episode aired in September 2011. Edward Snowden revealed the mass-surveillance program PRISM in 2013, three months before Person of Interest entered its third season. In an excellent New Yorker piece from 2014, as the implications of Snowden’s revelations were still unfurling, executive producer Jonathan Nolan said that “the moment we’re one in which data goes from being passive—something that we avail ourselves of—to being active. It’s a moment in which the data starts to direct us. As simple as that transition is, it’s also earthshaking. Computer systems will soon begin dictating, in ever less subtle ways, the paths of our lives.”

Slack says he felt responsible. “When Edward Snowden revealed the true scope of real government surveillance, I actually went through some tough soul-searching about whether or not the show had played some small part in preparing people to accept mass, warrantless surveillance. I don’t think we should accept mass surveillance — at all. Numerous people way smarter than me have warned about the dangers of government intrusion without cause — from Benjamin Franklin to George Orwell — and I think we would do well to heed their warnings.”


PRISM allowed the government to monitor millions of Verizon users’ data each day without a warrant, PayPal uses deep learning to stop fraud, and a glitch caused Knight Capital Group to lose $440 million in 30 minutes. Person of Interest could be ridiculous at times, but grounded itself just close enough to societal fears about government surveillance and big data to be truly meaningful. Even Fusco’s everyman has relevance: Even though he’s kept in the dark about Samaritan, he’s there consistently throughout the show (unlike Peter Bishop in Fringe, who got a personality transplant after Season 2) to say “what the hell is this?” when everything gets a bit too high-concept. When the team veers from a moral center - a central theme, as when Greer chillingly asks Samaritan, upon its request for a command, what it commands - Fusco is there to bumble in, hoagie in mouth and yell “yo, I’m a cop, this ain’t what we do.”

In the end, though this painfully close to saying that the star of Sex and the City is New York, the show’s main characters end up being The Machine and Samaritan. While the latter mostly speaks through a series of words it displays one at a time on screens, it works. When Finch faces off with Greer and Samaritan, in what a lesser shows would have turned into something extraordinarily moronic, Finch stands in front of a giant computer screen that’s basically saying, “Dude, c’mon. Dude. Dude, let’s talk about this.” The Machine mostly speaks through a mixture of recordings, and when it does speak like a person, it does so using what it thinks will help Finch. Instead, it’s a miscalculation on the computer’s part. So much of the show builds to the terror of what an AI can do to us - and so much of what they do is silent, and opaque. When the sides are at war, the humans can only somewhat guess at what their enemies are up to.

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


Reese and Shaw are brute-force objects, fighting for what they believe is right. Root and Finch argue over letting the machine free, with Finch understanding that his Machine is just another interpretation of Samaritan, with Root’s belief that Samaritan is simply a badly taught God. Fusco, even when he knows the full scale of the stakes, acts as moral anchor. Faced with two giant computers fighting a global war, he mostly says things like “What the fuck?” and “All right, I’ll shoot at the bad men, but there better be a hot dog in it for me.”

And that’s the beautiful thing: You view the whole struggle from varied but understandable perspectives. That’s just sharp TV writing. You see the plot for what it is, you know who dies or survives, you know why things happen and who everyone is, and you are never thrown into the quagmire of Lost. I’ve deliberately left out the fact that J.J. Abrams was an executive producer of Person of Interest as it feels so distinctly not like the J.J. Abrams of Lost. It certainly feels more like Alias, with an ensemble cast, a shadowy enemy, a truly shitty bad guy (Arvin Sloane is a top-10 television shithead) - but it corrects many of that show’s mistakes. Person of Interest rarely leads you astray, avoids red herrings and rewards you for watching flashbacks. It’s a show with little filler, few eye-rolling twists, and yet deals with some absolutely batshit science-fiction elements.

David Slack is proud to say this show isn’t just a handsome man inserting his fist into faces.


Person of Interest was my chance to get back to my first love, science fiction,” Slack admits. “I grew up on shows like Star Trek, Buck Rogers, The Incredible Hulk, and Max Headroom. Those stories with a big ‘what if’ premise are always the ones I enjoy telling most. So for me, POI was this wonderful fusion of the work I’d been doing on crime procedurals and the speculative fiction writing I wanted to do — all wrapped up in a cool, smart, fun, beautifully shot, explosively written package.”

Speaking to the cast about the show was strange - there wasn’t much of the usual “I’m so grateful for the chance to work with [so-and-so]” that you hear from actors, but instead more of the kind of metatextual or practical analysis you’d expect from members of the crew. Slack describes the show, despite its darkness, as “actually centered around hope,” and the cast’s comments reflected that. They’d fondly recall the nuances of a program that was often surprising in its depth.


Michael Emerson, an Emmy winner for his work on Lost, was downright nostalgic, with a great affection for the staff and how much of the show was spent speaking to The Machine—so, to nobody.

“[T]he way the show was shot for five seasons helped prepare me for playing lots of scenes without a human actor on the other end of it,” Emerson says. “Because the only way to shoot the show efficiently with Jim always being on the street, or a rooftop, or in a car - and me being at the control center - was for me to do all my scene-work without him. I would have many long solo days where I was just in the office, in the library, or in the underground subway station, talking to screens. In an important way, my whole experience of Person of Interest was talking to screens, even when I was talking to humans. My number one screen partner of that entire series was [script supervisor Tony Pettine], who used to read the other half of all of those electronic conversations.”

The editing covers that with the immediacy of cuts between conversations, but the show’s nominal stars, Caviezel and Emerson, barely acted together. While Reese would grunt at the camera while sticking his finger in his ear (OK, he had an earpiece, fine), Finch would sit in an office ordering him around. Weirder still, Finch spent another chunk of his character arc speaking to a screen - whether it was teaching The Machine in flashbacks or multiple occasions where Samaritan would argue with him one-word at a time. Hours of Michael Emerson’s life were spent tenderly ministering to a childlike machine, or growling at Samaritan as it had its way with society like the wank-fantasy of some Silicon Valley oligarchs. And he loved it.


“Maybe I’m kind of a solitary actor,” Emerson says. “It was so easy for me to project personhood, or something, onto the machine or Samaritan. I don’t know. I really enjoyed that particular part of my job, which turned out to be a lot of my job on Person of Interest. I really relished those flashback scenes where [Finch is] teaching the machine, coding it and teaching it to play chess, or teaching it the difference between the finer points of right or wrong, or teaching it about human nature, those things. I always really liked that stuff. They felt like soliloquies, in a way, so I could make the machine in my mind be whatever I wanted it to be. I think I always held it as something dear and something that was like a child of my own making, something dear and delicate.”

Jeff Neuman/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Kevin Chapman, who played Lionel Fusco, as almost the complete opposite of Finch — an on-the-ground, visceral character that oscillated between comic relief, “bein’ a cawp,” and serving the moral core of the show — put an equally large amount of work into making it work. Chapman began acting at 37, previously working for the mayor of Boston. He credits his start to Dennis Leary, who created Rescue Me, a show on which Chapman had a several-episode arc. Fusco slings nicknames — Finch is Mr. Peabody, or Glasses, Root is Crazy Banana Pants, Banana Nut Crunch, Reese is Tall Dark and Deranged or Wonderboy — and he turns a character that could have been a throwaway into one who keeps the show from going off the rails.


“In reality Fusco could have died in the pilot,” Chapman says. “I think that [show creator] Jonah Nolan knew that it needed something to give it a sense of gravity and kind of keep it anchored. I think that’s very much what the Fusco character did. When you’re getting into Season 5 and he’s still unaware, or fully unaware of what’s going on, they felt it was time to loop him in, you know? That could only go on for so long before the audience gets bored with it. It’s great that we pulled it off as long as we did, tell you the truth.

“Fusco gave it all a sense of reality ...You look at the rest of the cast, then you look at Fusco and you go, ‘Oh, he kind of looks like a New York cop and sounds like a New York cop so I guess the rest of that stuff must have some [grounding] to it.’ I think that’s what the character was written for.”

And, because Kevin Chapman is the greatest man alive, he pranked Sarah Shahi on set. In one scene, Shahi’s Shaw was meant to be wheeled down a hill in a body bag on a gurney, but before being loaded into the ambulance, they’d switch her body out for a dummy. (It helps if you read the following after watching the show in order to fully appreciate Kevin Chapman’s “Fusco voice.” I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t similar to just talking to him.)


“So what I did was, when we did the shot with her, we did a couple of takes, and then we did a shot when she’s inside the body bag and they stopped to fix the camera or something, I grabbed the gurney, and I began to pull it down the hill as if it was rolling. I kept saying, ‘Hey, hey, somebody should really grab that gurney! Hey, that thing’s rolling, you should grab that!’ ... She was frantic. She was, ‘Ahh! Get me out of…’ and she’s screaming, and I kept going, and she could hear the traffic getting closer and closer and closer. Then, when we got to the bottom of the hill, I unzipped the bag, and she’d come up and her hair was disheveled, and she was out of breath, and ... I looked her and I said ‘Welcome to Person of Interest,’ and I just walked away.”

Giovanni Rufino/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Amy Acker echoed how enjoyable working on the show was.

“I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky,” Acker tells me. “I’ve heard stories of casts having terrible people that everyone hates but I guess I’ve hit the jackpot and never had that happen.”


Acker’s Root starts as a far more selfish Elliott from Mr. Robot (and is significantly better written) She thrives on her love of The Machine, the chaos of her own selfishness, and her insistence that things that don’t make sense are “bad code.” She doesn’t step on obvious plot landmines - while she’s a hacker, her actual hacking isn’t forced into the storyline as anything other than a plot device. She’s, if anything, a hacker of people (don’t sigh too hard), constantly changing personality and manipulating others until she learns to love the team she’s with, and understands that the world can’t just be defragmented. Her adoration of The Machine grows from admiring its technological power to a more maternal instinct, a belief that unleashing it against Samaritan would prove that, despite Finch’s fears, the team has successfully taught “her” to be good.

Acker says the themes of Person of Interest couldn’t but worm their way into her real life. “Walking around New York, you start to be highly hypersensitive that are everywhere and everything was watching you at every moment, as the show says. I don’t know, maybe I’m probably naïve but I feel like my life is pretty boring so if someone’s hacking into my emails and Twitter or whatever, I don’t even have a Facebook account. I’m kind of the opposite of Root in that way; I’d be happy to live out on a farm and not have to check email.”

Across every interview with cast and crew, that paranoia was palpable.

“I think about it all the time,” says Emerson, “because every episode of that series someone took advantage of innocent everyday-use devices. Someone’s cell phone was on the cafe’s tabletop or someone was on a dating website, or something like that. All of those things are so eminently hackable, controllable, transferable. I think about all that all the time. Of course, every episode of our show was about cameras. Where are they? Is there anywhere you can’t be seen. It’s tricky in big cities like New York and London to be in a place where there isn’t a camera. [My wife] and I had a last drink in London, at a pub called The George on Waldorf Street and there was a tiny sign behind the bar saying, ‘Premises under electronic surveillance,’ and I thought, ‘Well, of course it is, what isn’t?’ I do think about those things.


“At the same time, I think, ‘Oh, but on an everyday basis, as civilians, we’re helpless. No one can go off grid now.’”

Sarah Shahi, says she “lived in a happy pink bubble” before doing the show.

“I didn’t believe in conspiracies. I thought big corporations were on our side. I didn’t think there was such a thing as evil. After the show, my reality was definitely turned upside down in terms of the government spying on us, the Big Brother theory, people pretending to be someone other than they are, this idea that we are constantly watched, that things like Facebook, Twitter, our email accounts, all of those things in some way are used to keep tabs on us. That was something that I had never thought of before the show. Since then I have come to realize that it’s absolutely true. That’s not fiction.”


Shaw’s “sociopathic” tendencies, and her gradual growth, are among of the most interesting parts of the show. While Reese isn’t particularly emotional, he’s anchored with guilt, sadness and anger; Shaw is described as literally emotionless. But through her actions and being given a purpose under The Machine, Shahi was challenged to develop very slowly a person learning to love, to hate, and to care.

“There was definitely a fine balance,” Shahi says, “because this character, even though she was supposed to be very robotic and in her emotions and not let anything show, there were places where I was just dying to find a crack in her veneer and to let something escape...I was constantly being told to be less, be less, be less. To not cry, to not tear up. But we are telling a story. We are trying to sell this character’s arc. She wasn’t a robot at the end of the day. There was not a switch that turned on and off. She was still human. The moments where the writers gave me some kind of crack, I really had to take advantage of that. Then it just became a matter of degrees, how much I was allowed to show.”



Just like Fusco, Kevin Chapman didn’t mince words about fearing the panopticon. “Are you kidding me? How could you not. How could you not? People thought we were a futuristic show that really wasn’t so futuristic then the whole Snowden thing opened up. That kind of blew the roof off it for us, you know? The first year, we were getting good numbers but when that whole thing broke in the second year, everyone was like, ‘Woah, what is Person of Interest talking about over there?’ Even myself, I’m kind of like, ‘Who is this guy Nolan, and what’s his background?’

“He knows a little more information than maybe he should know.”

Person of Interest concludes satisfyingly and sensibly. While it is open-ended, it isn’t a finale that suggests that it was all a dream, that they were in the afterlife, or in Hell, or that Samaritan accidentally printed itself onto 40 million pieces of paper. Characters either survive or die in the service of the mission, a mission that has defined parameters. Those that die do so in a way that is either as needless as it is in reality - sudden, horrifying, brutal - or with a dramatic finality. Those that survive don’t need vast explanations of their futures - they’re living in a post-Person of Interest world, just like the cast. Just like us. The bad guys of the moment are ultimately beaten, but everyone’s still living in a surveillance state.


A viewer is left with no questions. Actions and motivations are explained, there are no stray Russians left in the Pine Barrens. Despite being canceled, Person of Interest feels like it was always building to this point. For a show that deals with immensely high-concept definitions of advanced digital intelligence, it rounds off to a story about the exceptional nature of even the most normal people. In a quiet scene in the last episode, Fusco says “I love ya too, buddy,” to Reese. That’s all it needed. There’re no hugs. There’s no point at which Finch stares at Reese and gives him a 15-minute-long speech about the nature of friendship. Reese’s story ends with a smile, and a brutal realization that his life was incomplete without a mission.

It’s a joyful, five-season-long celebration of reliable, unpatronizing exposition, full of emotional performances that don’t feel unrealistic. While we’re all irrelevant numbers, it’s the irrelevant ones that save humanity from being turned into a deep learning experiment to perfect humanity. The show doesn’t play games with you—it invites you to consider the world around you while also enjoying the kind of popcorn entertainment that’s been forgotten since writers began to write directly toward people on the internet looking for a show’s “deeper meaning.”

I do see the irony in writing that sentence after having written many thousands of words about this show.


Giovanni Rufino/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to see any show or movie buck the trend of nine deaths and 40 twists per season, endless flashbacks, and endings that make you question why you bothered watching - or ones that have clearly forgotten the inherent value of the journey of getting there. Lost suffered from its popularity and its need to play to the theorists; Game of Thrones feels almost as if it’s begun airing just for people who write episode synopses; every USA Network show has become sandwich television of a minute of story, filler, and then an ending with a little bit of plot.

This is exactly what I fear for Westworld, a show that shares a similar formula — it’s written by Jonathan Nolan and scored by Ramin Djawadi, and features a great cast — but has one worrying difference: the internet is already talking about it.


I sure don’t remember anyone saying of Person of Interest, “who’d ever thought you could explore the workings of a self learning AI?”, or using it as a chance to discuss technology and “hedonism” before the show even aired. Though it’s begun without the pressure of following up an insanely positive show, Westworld has HBO’s marketing machine behind it. There’s a palpable feeling the internet’s mastication/masturbation of prestige TV — that we must endlessly pummel and pontificate — will hurt Westworld’s chances to just tell a good story.

The beauty of Person of Interest was that it always belonged to its creators, not to the internet. A lack of popularity, ironically, helped immensely. To Kevin Chapman, simply being on CBS stigmatized Person of Interest’s critical reception.

“You look at a show like Homeland,” Chapman says. “It’s this critically acclaimed show and gets nominated every year, but I think their biggest viewership is 5 million people. We did nine and a half million people [in 2015] and we were canceled. It’s a very different animal, completely different animal. It’s like a rock band playing in a coffee shop versus playing in a stadium. It’s a very different thing. What’s funny is a lot of the young kids are finding our show through Netflix and WGN and they’re watching the show, and they’re like, ‘That’s a cool show, why didn’t I see it when it was on?’


“I know why you didn’t see it when it was on - it’s because it was on network, and you didn’t think anything could be cool on a network television program.”

Person of Interest bordered on being a happy accident - David Slack said it “was the only science fiction show ever to come true while it was still being written.”


It became a show that explored - and perhaps Westworld will too, I hope - the nature of AI as a God. Not in a way that required either The Machine or Samaritan to have distinct personalities (though they both indisputably did), but that through their actions we felt a truly terrifying powerlessness. And when we willing let these AI run our lives, and they do something terrible, who is to blame?

Emerson isn’t sure. “Samaritan was a true and real existential threat to human life, but Mr. Finch was a kind of self-conscious Prometheus. He was never certain that what he’d made should’ve been made … [Samaritan] in a way, despite its murderous henchmen, and stuff, it was in some sense innocent, a case of a machine built on innocent logic, but with inhumane results. The smallest nuance of misprogramming, or misunderstanding of the human condition or human needs could lead to some kind of global nightmare.”

Both Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have warned us of exactly that. We’re excited to yell at Alexa to play a song, or have our investments dictated by computers, or have our cars automatically take the wheel. Siri, Cortana and other voice assistants are “living” computers; we’re learning not just how to use them, but how to relate to them. It’s subtle, but every time we make a joke about “having Alexa do something” we’re anthropomorphizing computers. And they’re domesticating us.


Ed Zitron runs technology public relations firm EZPR, and has written for places like Vice Sports, USAToday and The Daily Dot. He is one half of internet podcast the Scumbag. You can find him on @edzitron.