'In Search Of' episode 4 review: 'Artificial Intelligence' proves to be surprisingly informative
An improvement from 'Monsters of the Deep,' the fourth episode still brings along with it some noticeable flaws
History's 'In Search Of' has been quite the topsy-turvy ride. One could be forgiven for having high expectations of the show considering the gloried history. Its initial run between 1977 and 1982 had Leonard Nimoy as its host and was a cult-hit amongst science fiction fans due to his popularity as Spock in the Star Trek universe — as well as the fact that Zachary Quinto would be its new host in its second reboot.
Quinto famously took over the role of Spock in the 2009 'Star Trek' reboot and would be following in Nimoy's footsteps once again here, and while the 41-year-old has proved to be a more-than-capable host, the show itself has little redeemable value.
The first three episodes were accompanied by far more negatives than positives and 'Monsters of the Deep' was arguably the worst of the lot. First, the title proved to be a gross exaggeration; a click-baity aberration that attempted to oversell the premise to grab eyeballs.
Case in point, the first story involving Quinto explored the viral tale of an Australian boy who walked into the ocean at 6 am in the morning only to later stride out and realize that both legs are bleeding profusely. Could this be the result of some unknown, alien-like deep sea creature, Quinto muses? No, he later answers: they were sea fleas.
The rest of the 40-odd minutes follow a similar trend, with Quinto diving into each little mystery with the enthusiasm of a child, who is made to believe there's an ice cream truck around the corner, only to later find out it was just a cheap parlor trick to get his attention. That pretty much sums up how the audience feels after being lured with the prospect of 'Monsters of the Deep' but later greeted with the sight of sea fleas and Quinto inexplicably giddy at having glimpsed an octopus.
The episode did have a few fleeting positives, however, but even that's by a stretch of the imagination. Quinto makes his way around a repository that houses some of the 'monsters' that have washed ashore during freak natural disasters such as cyclones and floods, giving us a rare glimpse into the creatures that lurk the abyss in the world's oceans. Another bit involves the 41-year-old visiting a facility that documents and tags them as possibly new species based on DNA evidence, and he even manages to find himself at the right spot at the right time, witnessing the researchers discovering an altogether new 'monster.'
Review of episode 4, 'Artificial Intelligence' -
As ominous music thrums in the backdrop, Quinto announces: "For centuries, mankind has dreamed of creating new life. Recreating our likeness in the form of thinking machines...called...artificial intelligence." For all the suspenseful pauses, that's a pretty anticlimactic revelation. Artificial intelligence has practically been a buzzword since the 2010s, and accompanying our rapid progress in the field — researchers believe we could reach a level of ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence) as early as 2060 — have been grave warnings from some of our finest minds: Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and several others have come out to claim that they could spell humanity's end if due diligence is not done, and it's hard to argue against that line of reasoning.
Episode 5 is a marked improvement from its predecessor, and 'In Search Of' and Zachary Quinto take to addressing the divisive topic through a host of avenues. If you can ignore the shoddy production — the unnecessarily haunting music and choppy editing that, for some reason, insisted that the episode would be better off with random superimpositions of generic images of AI — the content in itself was surprisingly informative.
For its relatively crisp 40-minute running time, 'In Search Of' has managed to put together a package of content that is quite expansive. 'Artificial Intelligence' asks the questions that some of the field's brightest minds have pondered on themselves: What risks will these machines pose to humans in the future? At what point will they turn on their human masters? What will happen if the destructive technology currently being deployed in drones (which, to an extent, is AI) falls into the hands of radicals and terrorists? But it's not all doom and gloom, with its potential to optimize a variety of high-precision and dangerous tasks — be it diffusing bombs, assisting complicated surgeries, carrying out search and rescue missions in disaster-stricken regions — equally highlighted.
The episode begins with Quinto talking to Yann Lecun, the Chief of A.I. research at Facebook, about their chatbot program that caught the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2017: after an initial test run, they'd made up their own language to communicate with one another.
While the controversy is intriguing and its potential repercussions affecting many, the fact that they keep referencing the pseudo-conversation the bots had amongst themselves through the rest of the episode gets quite tiresome. A by-product of the overzealous production, it gave 'Artificial Intelligence' a sort of bootlegger 'Terminator' feel. The fact that Quinto references the popular sci-fi hit in a later segment highlighted his dearth of ideas regarding the topic.
That brings us to the second obvious negative. While there's nothing shameful about Quinto's lack of understanding of such a complicated topic, one does notice how, as the episode progresses, he ends up asking each expert the exact same question: "Do you think the robots will take over their human overlords?" I'm paraphrasing, of course, but his enthusiasm and willingness to learn notwithstanding, you can't help but wonder sometimes how the venerable Nimoy would have gone about the task.
The rest of 'Artificial Intelligence' follows Quinto as he makes his way into Real Doll — a company that makes customized, artificially intelligent life-sized human dolls for its customers — as well as some other research facilities.
At the Tufts Robotic Laboratory at Tufts University, he interacts with scientists who are teaching an AI to wield a knife (scary, I know) and developing robots that can psychically (for the lack of a better term) communicate with one another
At the AI lab at Carnegie Mellon, he finds himself in an experiment involving mini-drones that are programmed to act in unison.
The A.I or Die Battle Arena — a nostalgic recreation of 'Robot Wars,' but with the twist that one of the robots is controlled entirely by AI — see him speak with a few other AI enthusiasts. And finally, he finds himself at an Uber test facility that is working on optimizing self-driving cars for road travel.
Each segment has a few flaws — at Real Dolls, there's another one of the show's patent attempts at creating tension by depicting a robot going 'rogue' and threatening Quinto — though I will admit that's nitpicking on my part. 'In Search Of' has, so far, thrown up two duds and two decent episodes, and going by that pattern, the next one doesn't bode well for viewers. Quinto has remained the show's one constant shining light though if the content doesn't start catching up, and fast, it will end up as yet another footnote in the 'History' books.