OKCupid has guys, white and straight,
All in search of a pretty fun date.
But then soon they reveal
Their misogynist spiel.
So their egos I’m forced to deflate.
I’ve started to watch this show Almost Human and it’s kinda awesome, but it’s science fiction and already 15 minutes in there is unexplained new technology and I foresee so much yelling at the screen because I just can’t deal with wrongness. There’s DNA computing so DNA can be considered a programming language and then there’s programming DNA to build new structures so DNA can also be considered engineering material. But DNA is both. For proof, take a selfie, post it #nofilter on Instagram, tag it #selfmodulatingmolecularinformationrepresent, and welcome yourself to the club of All Lifeforms On Earth.
So saying “programmable DNA” is redundant in the same way that saying “period of time” is redundant, and maybe 35 years in the fictional future, this will be a thing. But it feels misleading because it implies that there is DNA that is not programmable. Yeah, no. But you can say “programmed DNA” because that’s what genes are. You can also say that in this future fiction “programmable DNA” is an industry term. At least then it’s not bad science communication. Then it’s just science fiction. As it was meant to be in the first place.
I’ve started on Fox’s new neo-noir cyberpunk police procedural Almost Human, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. (But then I didn’t start with high expectations. But then I generally don’t start with any.) J. H. Wyman may have been showrunner for Fringe, but Almost Human lacks its subtlety and atmosphere. The opening title cards and voiceover narration are ridiculously heavy-handed, seeming to belong to a second-rate production or one from an earlier time, and the setting is far too shiny, too sparkly, too sunny without any trace of self-awareness to be truly noir. Kevin McFarland at the A.V. Club dubs the show Blade Runner: The Procedural. I laugh in agreement because it’s clear that Almost Human is attempting to funnel the philosophy of tech-noir into the tone and execution of the procedural (except for the opening credits, which will eventually drive me up the wall because of the inconsistent visual language).
Even with those criticisms, Almost Human does very well centering the show around the relationship between its two protagonists, human Detective John Kennex and his android partner Dorian. The two men have good on-screen chemistry. Karl Urban, who plays Kennex, is a battle-weary but still genuinely warm cop, and Michael Ealy, who plays Dorian, is the talented and good-natured rookie. However, added to that classic cop buddy dynamic is the inherent class difference between being human and not quite human. Many times in the pilot episode Kennex calls Dorian “synthetic”. Dorian is not a “real” human being, even though he may look and act like one. It may also be an accident that Dorian is black while Kennex is white, but regardless of intention, one can’t ignore the implications behind the casting. As the show progresses, the relationship between Kennex and Dorian quickly falls comfortably into a partnership, so the message is not that Dorian and others like him are inferior, but there is great potential for Almost Human to explore the perception and embodiment of humanness through how the characters interact with each other.
And again, however overtly it came across, there’s an element of race at play in the interaction between androids and humans. Kennex keeps asking Vanessa [a black android] the wrong questions during an interrogation. He can’t get on the right mental wavelength to ask the right questions. As a fellow robot, and the black lead talking to the only black supporting character in the episode, Dorian knows what to say. I don’t think there’s some grand statement being made in these interactions, but there’s a pattern at play relating racial interaction in real life to how humans (or secret robots) interact with almost humans—Dorian’s robot with a soul, or the sex bots with human DNA in their skin—in the world of Almost Human. That is subtext I find most encouraging—that this show could have something complex to say.
Likewise, I am very interested in what this show could say about class or racial relations. (Already in the second episode, there is a strong statement about misogyny and sexual objectification: Even given safe and hyperrealistic alternatives to human women, men would still literally strip from women their bodies and turn them into sex toys.) I feel comfortable watching a show that is aware of societal power structures and the importance of on-screen personal relationships. I would even grit my teeth through the opening credits and elementary existentialist musings. Now if they would only strengthen the two female leads beyond romantic interest and boss, Almost Human could be a very good show.
Postscript - The amount of Blade Runner references is absolutely ridiculous. Blade Runner is set 37 years into the future of 2019; Almost Human is set 35 years ahead in 2048. In the second episode, Sebastian Jones, a man who creates sex androids, is found dead; in Blade Runner, J.F. Sebastian is geneticist who creates his own companions. Also in the second episode is a hotel called the Deckard Gardens Hotel, obviously named after Blade Runner protagonist Rick Deckard. I may have to grit my teeth about the heavy-handed homages, too.
The psycheval lasted five hours. Unsurprisingly, I was exhausted at the end of the exam. Surprisingly, I reported uninterrupted emotional security and stability for the previous two week period.
There is a first for everything. (Yes, I still feel stable and secure.)
I’ve been shuttered in and out of doctor’s offices, taking exams and giving medical histories, for over a decade. Beth Israel was new, but hospitals weren’t. I even took the WAIS twice before; many tests were instantly recognizable. Still, a few things:
- Medical providers are forever grateful if you bring in related documents for them to keep. Makes their jobs so much easier. (I don’t expect to change provider teams anytime soon, but I anticipate reporting my medical history multiple times in the future, so I started to document the important events and people in my life. Going through my entire medical history quickly gets exhausting. Also, there are so many details, I always forget some the first go-around.)
- Every single health care provider has asked me if I think I have PTSD. Considering my history, it’s a reasonable question, but it’s the one diagnosis that never felt right to me. Coping with my many traumas never felt disordered, and everything after the car accident can be easily explained by TBI. Even complex post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t feel quite right.
- I am ridiculously good at the Block Design test. (I call this skill "pushing blocks around".) The test administrator said that she had ever seen anyone complete the test so quickly before.
- I also don’t remember how to do single-variable calculus. I’m not heartbroken. My father was math and computer science, and even he had to review my high school textbook to help me with AP Calculus. I don’t expect to use calculus often in my little niche of neuroscience either.
- My mind goes to the strangest places. But I swear I’m not disturbed: I was primed from seeing the word earlier that day. (I’m also a hygienic and sex-positive bionerd. It shouldn’t be surprising that the word is in my vocabulary.)
- I reported that I’m not fidgety but I spent the last half hour of the exam repeatedly clicking my pen. I didn’t feel anxious; I felt tired. But I think I made the test administrator nervous.