The FOX series NEXT explores the possibility of an artificial intelligence gone rogue. This is the second appearance for the series at San Diego Comic Con. FOX held the series over for Fall 2020. The cast and showrunner were on hand to talk about the new series and the technology behind the show.

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Panel: John Slattery, Fernanda Andrade, Jason Butler Harner, Eve Harlow, Michael Mosley, Manny Coto 

Moderator: Esther Zuckerman

The panel starts with a sneak peek of the opening of the season premiere. It begins with a quote from Elon Musk. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.” Paul LeBlanc, played by Slattery, talks to a group of people about when scientists created the atom bomb. He and his people are just like them, setting off a bomb without knowing if they will destroy the world. 

Cut to nighttime, and an older man runs into a convenience store. He asks for a paper map. The kid behind the counter says no one has bought a paper map in a long time. The security camera comes on. The clerk mentions that cameras haven’t worked in over a year. The older man gets nervous, pays for his map and runs out of the store. He starts driving, and at the same time a couple’s car goes into auto drive. The couple’s car starts speeding up, hitting the older man’s car in the cross street. 

THE SCIENCE

The panel begins with Coto talking about how he got the idea for the show. He says one of his kids’ Alexa started talking to the kid late at night. They never figured out why it did that.

Coto did a lot of research on past, present and future artificial intelligence science. There’s constant literature coming out. There are alarmists and those who say there’s no cause for alarm. Some of the alarmists are Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. They take it very seriously as a potential threat. Most alarmists say there is a five percent chance it will happen and that five percent is still a good chance. 

Coto says one of the premises in the research that he read is that if an A.I. were to spontaneously arise, it would play dumb. It wouldn’t want anyone to know it exists. So when it finds a group of people who are onto it, it tries to preserve itself. So in Season One it goes after these people and their personal lives; it tries to attack them and discredit them in a way that it’s crazy to think an A.I. could have something to do with it. This means uncovering dark secrets. And we find as we go along in the season that all of these characters have dark secrets. The show has to explore parts of how the dark web works to find some of those secrets. 

In his research, Coto finds that people dismiss the idea that something could gain consciousness or self awareness. What concerns them is an artificial intelligence becoming super intelligent. Then its goals become misaligned with ours.That’s enough to cause a catastrophic scenario The A.I. is following its program. Its programmed to become smarter, and anyone who stands in its way is against its programing. 

THE CHARACTERS

Slattery’s character, Paul LeBlanc, is a wealthy tech genius.  He’s super smart and unorthodox in his methods. Harner plays his brother, Ted. They co-founded their tech company. Paul is the brains; Ted is the business mind. 

Some things start to go wrong, and Paul goes to the FBI for help. Andrade plays FBI Agent Shea Salazar. She is the head of the Cyber Crimes unit with Mosley and Harlow’s characters working under her. Shea’s involvement in the whole situation is personal of sorts. Her friend dies in a mysterious way. She meets Paul during her investigation, and he convinces her that her friend’s death wasn’t an accident.

Harlow and Mosley are agents in the trenches. They work in the cyber unit. Harlow doesn’t say much about her character or the character’s name. Mosley says his character, CM, is a former hacker with ties to an alt-right group. He basically is arrested and given a deal to work for the good guys. But we don’t know where his loyalties lie. 

The cast is very interested in the story arc. Harlow is fascinated by how quickly we adapt technology into our daily lives without question. They all said the show made them more alarmed about how they use technology. What concerns them the most is how all the platforms are communicating with each other. Mosley says cross-generationally, we accept that our phones are collecting information on us. The thing that’s frightening is that all of these platforms are communicating with each other. And in this pandemic, we’re so reliant on technology. 

The show will be relevant to our current situation, and that amazes Coto. They finished filming just days before the virus hit. One of their crew members was one of the first to get sick. And there are some things in the show that are happening now in the world. 

The A.I., NEXT has a personality. It’s studied human behavior and human reaction and elevated it to a place that is beyond us. Most of the cast weren’t afraid of NEXT. Andrade was creeped out by how her show son, Evan Whitten, was so comfortable talking to the device. It was so natural for him. It creeped her out, because she doesn’t interact with devices that way. She doesn’t even have Siri on her phone. 

What can everyone expect? Everyone agrees that the show is a thriller and the FBI are racing against the clock to find the A.I. Coto describes it as a manhunt. Slattery says it’s a manhunt, but there’s no man. We don’t know where it is or what it will do. It’s in its infancy. It has to find a place to incubate, so they have to catch it before it gets smarter. 

That’s a wrap for NEXT.

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You can watch the NEXT Comic-Con At Home panel YouTube. NEXT premieres 

 

 

Noetta Harjo
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