Almost Human (TV Series, 2013): If Firefly were a Buddy Robot Cop Series with Predicate Logic

September 29, 2018

 

Recommendation: Find this and watch the salt and pepper detectives deal with predicate calculus, Internet of Things, and computer vision in a RoboCup meets Blade Runner universe.

Almost Human is set in a near future where the social fabric of civilization has frayed into a Blade Runner noir vibe and the Bad Guys are more technologically sophisticated than the police. The solution is, wait for it, robot cops. In a nice nod to RoboCop, Karl Urban (Skurge from Thor: Ragnorak, Bones from Star Trek, Eomer from LOTR, … ok pretty much everything) is a human detective who has lost a leg to one of the quasi-techno mobs. Unlike Will Smith in I, Robot, a prosthetic limb isn’t an affront, just something to remember to charge. Kennex is now paired, reluctantly of course, with a DRN model android, called Dorian- D R N, get it? Dorian, played by Michael Early (Barbershop), had been shelved because the “synthetic soul” programming framework for the DRN models produced some unstable androids who cared too much and were driven crazy by the harsh realities of police work. The ebony-and-ivory, salt-and-pepper pairing echoes the Lethal Weapon series, as Kennex (the white guy) isn’t too fussy about regulations and Dorian (the black robot) is always try to work within the system. The series is populated with other recognizable actors: Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Caribbean) gets to play a hacker version of Ducky from NCIS and Lili Taylor is outstanding as the tough but fair department head last seen in Law and Order. John Larroquette puts in an amazing vignette as Dorian’s creator. is he a good guy? A bad guy? A good guy gone bad because of exonerating circumstances?

 

We’ll never know because Fox cancelled the series after 1 season. Fox cited the costs of the series given the relatively low viewership; fans cited the “no one learned from Firefly” decision to show the episodes out of order.

 

The series is fairly traditional, with the plots either the police procedural of the week or mythology episodes moving towards resolving the meta plot lines (Who set up Kennex and cost him his leg? What are those extra memories doing in Dorian’s head? What is behind the Wall?) 

 

The episodes often had nuggets of thoughtful, realistic robot technology.

  • The Pilot episode throws out that what makes Dorian and the synthetic soul programming framework different is that it is based on predicate calculus. Kudos for mentioned predicate calculus, which is a staple of artificial intelligence for reasoning and interference using deductive logic. It’s only a bit of an ouch-er that the predicate calculus would not support the type of intuition Dorian is talking about.

  • Disrupt is about an Internet of Things smart house with a lethal security system- the robot house trope.  A nice plot point is that while having a lethal home security system is well-motivated and legal, it is not particularly a wise choice.

  • Beholder explores facial recognition and how it is relatively easy to confound the systems, illustrating some of Dr. Gary Marcus’ criticisms of the hype about AI.

 

It was a shame that Almost Human never found an audience. It has the same humanity of Firefly and the same studio mishandling. There is no sign of an Almost Human movie to wrap up the plotlines but it is still worth watching the single season despite the hanging threads.

 

- Robin

 

Buy the full series on Blu-ray from Amazon.

 

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