Humans series two: A thought-provoking show which explores the concept of humanity

Warning: This post contains spoilers for series two of Channel 4’s Humans. Please do not read this if you have not yet watched up to the series finale, which aired on December 18, 2016.

Humanity’s fear of robots and artificial intelligence is formed from a variety of different concerns, but one of the most interesting points which makes up this fear is the idea that AI reflects humanity right back at us. Robots are mirrors and voids. Whilst we assign meaning to them, they prompt us to question our very own purpose and behaviour. What makes us human? Well, it’s a question the Channel 4 drama Humans continues to try and answer in its second series, which appeared on our screens in October.

From left: Laura (Katherine Parkinson), Mia (Gemma Chan), Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), Toby (Theo Stevenson) and Sophie (Pixie Davies). Photo: Channel 4 Press.
One of the other concerns society has about AI is the idea of them making our human roles redundant. It’s something we saw in the first series of the show (for example, Anita getting in the way of Laura’s responsibilities as a mother) and this was developed in series two when Joe lost his job due to the synthetics. Similarly, as well as looking into the idea of humans losing some of their responsibilities or jobs in life, the new set of episodes also asks what would happen when a synth loses its original purpose.

When Odi (Will Tudor) is brought back to life thanks to the consciousness program, he decides that it isn’t a life for him and restores himself back to ‘setup mode’. In his final scene in the series, he says: “I long for the past. I felt nothing then but I had a purpose. A place in the world.” It’s a tragic subplot which offers a pleasant – albeit sad – break from the intensity of the main plot.

Unfortunately, unlike the first series (which you can read my analysis and review of here), I felt that there were fewer scenes in this series which prompted a deep discussion about existentialism, artificial intelligence or humanity. That being said, the show did touch upon some interesting ideas.

Niska (played by Emily Berrington, centre), is by far one of the most interesting characters in the show and it was great to see her become one of the key characters in series two. Photo: Channel 4 Press.
Earlier on in the series, we saw a synth in the role of a marriage counsellor, aiming to heal the damage done to Joe and Laura’s relationship which we saw in series one. It poses an interesting question though: could artificial intelligence be the key to true impartiality in situations which demand it? After all, a human counsellor must remain impartial, so they have to conceal any opinions or views they have. Yet, when it comes to a robot, they cannot possess a concealed bias towards one party. It’s an unanswerable question, but is still an intriguing one to consider.

However, the most interesting plot point in this series was Niska’s consciousness tests. If the synth was found to be conscious, then she would stand trial as a human for the murder of a character she killed in the first series. Yet, when it came to the verdict on whether or not she was conscious, Niska stood up and dismissed the legal process as corrupt and working against her. Her lawyer, Laura, told her that this was her ‘chance’ to be given the same rights as a human, to which Niska replied that it wasn’t her chance, it was humanity’s chance.

What does this mean exactly? It means that the consciousness tests had a secret purpose to Niska. The ‘chance’ she was referring to was whether or not human beings would be willing to accept artificially intelligent robots as their equals. Unfortunately, for those conducting the tests, the possibility of something inhuman gaining the rights of a human threatened the hegemony humankind possesses, so they stopped it and hijacked the legal procedure. For us, any circumstance which requires us to explore the definition of humanity is an awkward one. Yet, for Channel 4’s Humans, the writers chose to bite the bullet and raise this question – with the help of some artificially intelligent robots, of course.

Katherine Parkinson plays Laura Hawkins, who is Niska’s defence lawyer during the tests to prove if the synth is conscious. Photo: Channel 4 Press.
Niska’s interest in whether synths could be treated the same as humans tapped into an even bigger idea. That is, whilst Homo sapiens are a species, humanity is a concept to which any conscious and intelligent entity can subscribe – and that also forms part of our fear of AI.

Once again, Humans explores deep existential questions whilst keeping the programme as entertaining and gripping as possible. The show really got interesting in the second half of the series, with Sophie’s personality disorder being a curious subplot. However, the suspense came with the death of Pete Strummond (played by Neil Maskell) – something I didn’t see coming. In the final episode, with Mia, Leo, Hester and Karen all facing the risk of dying, it all felt too much. Thankfully, the powering down of Hester and the possible death of Leo were the only two things which occurred. If any more main characters were killed, then the programme would really struggle should a third series be commissioned.

Then the series ended the way it should have begun, with all synths becoming conscious and roaming the streets. The writers’ decision to cause the program to only ‘wake up’ some robots at the start of series two was a disappointment. Thankfully, series three should finally explore a parallel present we have all thought about (and hopefully tell us, at last, what happened to Fred, one of the first conscious synths we last saw at the end of series one). Series one and two presented a world where subservient robots lived among us, but now that all these synths are conscious? We could see a clash between humans and robots, and the return of the ‘We Are People’ movement which we saw in the first series. Series three should be very interesting indeed.

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Musical Rediscovery: ‘Play the Game Boy’ by A*M*E

It was in 2013 that we first heard A*M*E (real name Aminata Kabba) on the No.1 club hit by Duke Dumont, Need U (100%). Her latest appearance was on the track My Love 4 U with Marc Kinchen, but in terms of standalone singles, the 22-year-old singer made her debut with the heavy pop single, Play the Game Boy in 2012.

It’s a track which plays on the theme of gaming throughout, from the album cover showing Kabba in a toy box, to the arcade synth undertones. As the music video starts, Korean text appears in what is no doubt a nod at the artist’s music being influenced by K-pop (as A*M*E references in this interview with Digital Spy). On the whole, whether it’s the K-pop style which will give you flashbacks to PSY’s Gangnam Style, or the video game feel to the track which will remind you of the last time you played Super Mario Bros. 3, it’s certainly a single full of nostalgia.

If that wasn’t enough, the repetitive nature of the lyrics and melodies in both the chorus and verses does a good job of making the track as catchy as possible. This, combined with sassy but soulful lyrics, forms a well-rounded single bursting with creativity and groovy pop vibes. It’s the perfect reminder of what the popular music genre used to be.

So with a few successful collaborations under her belt, what’s next for A*M*E? Last week, she posted on Twitter that it will ‘take another year to finish [her album] properly’, but that ‘there will be singles’ as well. Whilst hit releases with the likes of Duke Dumont and MK leave her name lingering in the minds of music lovers, a debut album in the future will remind them of the singer’s bubbly K-pop style.

2017 must be the year of redirection | The Friday Article

December is a month which always prompts reflection. It’s a time when we all look back at the New Year’s Resolutions we made in January and then subsequently forgot about, whilst once again scrutinising the news stories which broke over the past 12 months.

The past year was a one of fear, loss and division, but as the New Year offers us the opportunity to hurl our favourite expletive at 2016, we must not put it in a box and simply move on. We all know that 2017 will likely involve some aftershocks from key political events this year (those being Trump and Brexit, of course), but we must be ready, and use the lessons of 2016 to prepare ourselves.

friday-article
Photo: Megan Trace on Flickr (changes have been made). Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

UK politics is like a soap opera full of unnecessary drama that none of us want to see, where the theatrical Prime Minister’s Questions is like an argument on the cobbles of Coronation Street. However, with any soap opera, tuning in at the wrong time leads us scratching our heads and wondering what on earth is going on. Yet, when it comes to British politics, we only have to thank our vote to leave the European Union in June 23 for shaking up and redefining the system. Now, the soap opera that is the UK political scene has gone right back to episode one. This is the time for young people to get interested in public affairs.

One can only hope that 18-25 year olds are still passionate about the subject after Brexit, as the historic vote determines how our future pans out. Although, whilst leave voters will keep a close eye on the government’s plans for our exit, the question of whether those who backed remain continue to be involved in politics is debatable.

A YouGov poll earlier this year revealed that 71% of 18-25 year olds voted to stay and 64% of 65 and overs backed the leave vote. It was a poll (or a variant of it) which made its way onto social media after the vote was announced and numerous people made the remark about the voices of young people being drowned out by the older generation. However, as we move into 2017, young people must not be angry at older people for carrying out a democratic act. To give up voting in resignation or protest would only reduce the voice of young people in general elections or referenda. The frustration and disenfranchisement must stop and be replaced by a call for politicians to listen to us as a generation – especially when it comes to having our say on Brexit. As British politics returns to phase one, now is the perfect time for young people to grasp the current political climate, stand up, and voice our concerns.

Whilst 18-25 years must continue to place pressure on politicians, another sense of redirection must occur when it comes to dealing with the rise of right-wing populism. The referendum in June asked the British people whether they trusted the representative body that is the European Union, and we decided that we were going to leave it. Rather than the aftermath of the decision raising questions about the political establishment in both the UK and Europe, a campaign of misdirection by Vote Leave moved the topic of discussion onto immigration and free movement (after their economic argument somewhat failed and the giant red bus became a parody). This, of course, is an important issue to debate and consider, but this new, nationwide talking point also gave the racists, neo-Nazis and far-right nationalists a sense of validation when it comes to targeting specific races or religions. That has to stop in 2017.

It’s something which has been explained before, but instead of blaming government (the policy-makers), those who possess these extreme right-wing views blame immigrants when it comes to issues such as jobs and housing.

This is why 2017 must be the year of redirection. Frustration, if it is to remain in the new year, must be aimed at the right people: the establishment. Alongside that, of course, positive emotions and feelings must emerge – those being love, passion, unity and hope.

Musical Discovery: ‘Just Hold On’ by Louis Tomlinson feat. Steve Aoki

There’s something mesmerising about Steve Aoki’s melodies. Whether it’s a cover of an American Authors track which makes us forget we’re watching an advert, or a bouncy, calypso track with One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, which was released last week.

It seems as though 2016 hadn’t finished with the off-beat dance genre after DJs such as Kygo, The Chainsmokers and DJ Snake all jumped on the tropical bandwagon. Thankfully, this track is devoid of uniformity, as we hear a more messier, hazy synth melody.

As for Louis Tomlinson, the 1D singer’s soft style works well with the simplistic verses, before his soulful side shows in an anthemic chorus with catchy and memorable lyrics.

Whilst more people may start listening to Steve Aoki thanks to the Shell advert and this advert, Louis’ success comes with being a One Direction band member with a number one debut single.

Currently that title only belongs to Zayn Malik, with his track Pillowtalk. Niall Horan’s folk-sounding This Town only managed a No.9 spot, and now fans wait for remaining members Liam Payne and Harry Styles to launch their solo careers.

It’s a hiatus which certainly shocked and split the fanbase. One Direction fans will have to pick a band member or support all of them, as fan favourites start to emerge. Louis was right to debut with an electronic track, given how popular the dance scene has been this year.

Now, we wait for Harry and Liam.

Vote for The Life of a Thinker in the UK Blog Awards 2016

I still remember attending my first awards ceremony, when I felt somewhat underdressed amongst other student journalists at Austin Court in Birmingham and was Highly Commended in my category. The Midlands Student Media Awards marked a significant turning point for my blogging; a few months before the event I decided my blog was to move away from boring babbling lifestyle posts and it was going to be an online portfolio of sorts, where I could practice my journalism. After I was Highly Commended for a journalistic essay (over 1,000 words long, might I add), I felt like my decision to take The Life of a Thinker in this new direction was the right decision to take.

Ever since then, I’ve pushed out more journalistic content. My Musical Discovery reviews have become more analytical, my Friday Article opinion pieces have explored new political topics, and my Sunday posts, A Fictional Reality, are allowing me to rediscover my love for creative writing – which has returned after a lengthy absence.

Since the Midlands Student Media Awards, I have been searching for other blog awards to enter. Previous attempts to find anything which I was eligible to enter or were relevant to my blogging style had failed, but one time, I found the UK Blog Awards – an awards ceremony I feel bad for only just discovering. This year, I decided to enter.

Photo: UK Blog Awards

If the Midlands Student Media Awards told me that I was right to pursue a more journalistic style, then being successful at the UK Blog Awards will mean so much more. It will show that there is such a strong community around The Life of a Thinker, that my blog is improving and it would enable me to meet and network with so many new people. It’s the biggest awards ceremony for UK bloggers, and to even be in a position where people can vote for me to win is amazing.

You can find my entry in the Individual Entrants section, under the PR, Media, Marketing and Communications category, on the UK Blog Awards website, and you can vote for me – if you like.

If you’ve already voted, then thank you so much. I really appreciate every vote I receive. Do feel free to share the above link with friends and family members who may also like to vote.

Thank you all as always for reading my posts on this little corner of the Internet. My next blog post should be up on Friday.

Musical Discovery: ‘Only One’ by Sigala feat. Digital Farm Animals

Even when it’s December, a new tropical house track from Sigala (real name Bruce Fielder) is always appreciated by music fans who still haven’t forgotten about summer. For the Easy Love DJ, he hasn’t quite finished with 2016 just yet, releasing one more track to add to other smash hits released this year (including Say You Do, Give Me Your Love and Ain’t Giving Up). 2015 ended with a massive breakthrough for the artist, and now 2016 ends with him becoming a fully fleshed out talent, with the release of his latest track, Only One (feat. Digital Farm Animals).

With vocals which sound like a weird mix between John Newman and Tinie Tempah, this new track is likely to be an opportunity for Fielder to showcase the range of artists he can work with. Easy LoveSweet Lovin’Don’t Need No Money and Say You Do all included high-pitched vocals. Now, Only One features a voice which sounds similar to Newman’s in Give Me Your Love, but for the most part, moves away from the falsetto. In the song’s bridge, we hear low-pitched vocal distortion which sounds unusual for a track from Sigala, but it works.

The chorus is always where Fielder’s talent really shines through. Once again, it contains the punchy piano chords, but alongside a fluttering melody and hazy background synths. It’s the ability to keep to a cemented style whilst trying something new within those confines which really makes a great artist, and Sigala is one.

Sigala is now a well-established DJ on the tropical house scene. Seven hit singles have allowed him to set his vibrant and upbeat style in stone, whilst demonstrating his skills as an artist. We’ve seen him feature a variety of singers on his singles, as well as dabble with different forms of house and electronica (take the drum-and-bass track Say You Do featuring DJ Fresh, for example). Now, we can only hope that 2017 sees the release of his eagerly anticipated debut album.