EXCLUSIVE | 'Artificial: Remote Intelligence': Viewers could've prevented a death, says co-creator Evan Mandery

In an interview with MEA WorldWide, Evan Mandery talks about how he and Bernie Su created the series and what its unique format means for the future of storytelling

                            EXCLUSIVE | 'Artificial: Remote Intelligence': Viewers could've prevented a death, says co-creator Evan Mandery
Co-creator Evan Mandery (Artificial)

When 'Artificial' was in its early stages, it was going to be a relatively more straightforward show about an AI learning to be human. However, when Evan Mandery met Bernie Su and discussed the show with him, the two instead decided to make the series interactive, making it one of the more unique forms of storytelling out there today. In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Mandery talks about the show, the power the audience has over the story, and how 'Artificial' is just the start of an all-new era of storytelling.

Chow co-creator Mandery first talked a little about how the show first came to be. "I met with Bernie (Su), who was speaking at a conference in Burlington, Vermont," he said, adding, "Actually in connection with a novel that I had written... we talked about other ideas and I mentioned to Bernie a premise that I had for a show which I'd actually developed with a conventional TV producer, and Bernie expressed enthusiasm for it. Said he would want to do it in this innovative way and I was into it. We've worked very productively since."

He then talked about the world-changing events of Season 2 and revealed just how much of a role the audience played in making it all happen. In reference to the season's ending, he says, "That was NOT a fixed point, and it is something that the audience could have prevented." He continued, "Obviously when it was just a normal a story for a regular TV, I had a conventional arc in mind and when Bernie and I started planning we left some decision points up to the audience... We had discussed it and the audience had complete freedom on that ultimate point." 

Mandery's original vision for the show's ending was quite different, however. "I was most interested in how you could develop ethics, or morality within an artificial intelligence and putting it to a complicated choice. In my mind that decision was more complicated than maybe it's been framed, within our universe?" he said. "It wasn't murder and the collateral damage is very problematic. But I don't think based on Sophie's understanding of morality or a lot of people's understanding of morality, that it's so clearly wrong. You know, it's debatable, questionable but her motivation was to reduce harm and to me it becomes a version of the — 'would you kill baby Hitler if you had the chance to do it?' Hypothetically."

He talks about how the nature of storytelling is shifting and how there's no term yet that quite describes the kind of show that 'Artificial' is. "I think the nomenclature is like in its infancy, but it's not choose-your-own-adventure, it's not. If you pick A, go to page 17 and if you pick B, go to page 32, it's as if all six hundred thousand people who are reading this book, if the majority of them say go to A, then that now becomes the story. It's particularly interesting to me because I grew up watching conventional TV and... I do see that for a lot of younger people, that way of telling story really resonates, and it's very interesting to me."

He also expanded on the way the nature of storytelling has changed over generations. "My personal lesson is how orientation to content and platforms has changed so dramatically since I was a kid. I mean, I'm 52," he said. "Sixty-seventy percent of what I consumed was books. I've watched plenty of TV, I played some games — mostly I just read and, and that's changed. Reading is not interactive, your imagination is active but that's a different type of interaction with the story."

He said that Dungeons and Dragons is a closer analogy for the interactive storytelling that 'Artificial' embodies and then talked about the generational differences between story consumption. "My kids will watch YouTube videos before they go to sleep. People's orientation is much more to easily digestible chunks of content — that's very different. The interaction with the characters and the creators is actually not something that I craved as a kid."

He continued, "My analogy — I've read The New York Times every morning for 37 years, okay? And The Times was my authoritative source for news, and I understood that The Times also produced some opinion. And as you allow more interactivity, and as interactivity even extends to interaction with the news so that people think their response, their opinion, their reaction to the news is valid — or as valid as the news itself — changes their perception of content. So there's something extraordinarily wonderful and democratizing about the interactivity that the internet cultivates and there's also something very scary and destabilizing about it.  Not in the content of our story, but our story is for me a lens through which I partially understand what's changed in America."

The next episode of 'Artificial: Remote Intelligence' airs on June 18 at 6pm PT on Twitch.tv/ArtificialNext.

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