ETechnology can bring about ternal existence. That is the promise of uploaded intelligence (UI), also known as mind uploading, a phenomenon—one that remains, for now, within the realm of science fiction—in which an entire human brain is emulated via computer. But there’s a catch. A UI can be described as a disembodied intelligence that is not physically present in the world. Even If it is a “real person” (and that’s a big if) living on as a program, that person can’t snuggle in bed with a lover or kiss their children goodnight. Does their existence constitute human life?
There are many important questions about power. PantheonThe most complex and interesting question is “,” a captivating, cerebral animated series of sci-fi that premieres Sept. 1, on AMC+. This is because it comes out of an ordinary situation, bordering on the mundane. When we meet 14-year-old Maddie Kim (voiced by Katie Chang), she’s constantly at odds with her mother, Ellen (Rosemarie DeWitt), and is getting mercilessly cyberbullied by the mean girls at her high school. “Most of the girls in my class completely missed the moment when the world began to end, too wrapped up in their own drama, obsessed with their own lives,” Maddie recounts in an intriguing voiceover that opens the series. “Or trying to ruin mine.”
Maddie and David reunited online in a game. Pantheon
The twist comes when she starts receiving chat messages from a mysterious, seemingly omniscient correspondent who uses her tormentors’ electronic devices to turn them against each other. The signs are all pointing to her father David (Daniel Dae Kim) as the stranger. But this isn’t some My mother the car farce. David worked for Logorhythms, a technology company that experimented with UI before he died from cancer. According to the company, a brain scan aimed at preserving David’s consciousness in the final moments of his (embodied) life failed. Now, it seems that Logorhythms wasn’t entirely honest with Ellen.
Above and beyond the Kim family Pantheon Follows two characters, each with their own relationship to Logorhythms & UI. Another teenage misfit, gothy Caspian (Paul Dano) excels at math and hacking—and seems to be living in a small-scale version of The Truman ShowHe is surrounded by parents who have been unable to see the truth, and he roleplays a dysfunctional marital relationship for their benefit. Chanda (Raza Jaffery of Homeland), a computer engineer from Mumbai, takes a meeting with executives at one of his company’s American rivals. This breakfast sets the stakes of the show: “Singularity is near,” Chanda tells the suits. “And whoever makes the big bets, and the right bets, will control not just the market, but the future.” They pronounce him a prophet.
There is a global conspiracy thriller taking shape amid the human drama, and the show—based on short stories by Hugo-winning author Ken Liu, who also translated into English the Chinese writer Liu Cixin’s popular and influential Problem Three-Body Problem—never loses sight of either element. UI introduces profound philosophical and emotional conflicts, and creator Craig Silverstein’s (Turn: Washington’s Spies() digs into each type of problem. Is David both alive and dead? How can a woman, especially one as mistrustful of technology as Ellen is, carry on a marriage with a man she not only can’t touch, but also doesn’t quite see as real? Are David and Ellen both human-like simulations or a real person without bodies? What about Chanda’s UI-driven vision Chanda so exuberantly describes, with its potential to launch new leisure businesses and free people from the drudgery of white collar work?
Caspian with Hannah, his love interest Pantheon
Every once in a while, in the four episodes provided for review, Silverstein’s scripts get tangled in their own high-level ideas. It happens less frequently than one might think, despite the show being so intense. The choice to adapt Liu’s work using traditional animation also helps to keep the story down-to-earth. While computer animation might have sent it plunging into the uncanny valley and live-action TV would have required expensive CGI effects that might’ve looked silly despite their price, there’s a warmth to the elegant, anime-style characters and backdrops drawn by Titmouse (the studio behind Big Mouth Paramount+’s new Beavis-Head and Butthead projects. The series captures the modern, digital-mediated look of life, from the stage of elite tech conferences, to the digital realms of MMPORGs, to late-night coffee shops.
All of this—along with a stellar voice cast that also includes Taylor Schilling, Aaron Eckhart, Maude Apatow, and the late William Hurt—helps Pantheon What starts as an ambitious, possibly goofy idea quickly turns into something completely wild. It’s hardly the first show to take up UI. This concept inspired storylines. Star Trek, StargateThe Sci-Fi Channel, along with other franchises, for many decades before it made inroads into the fame-drama futurism. Westworld Black Mirror; “San Junipero,” a feature-length romance between two uploaded intelligences in a VR afterlife, became a breakout episode of the latter anthology series. Recent episodes include: UploadAmazon’s sci-fi comedy, The Office Greg Daniels is the creator of digital-heaven. Premium upgrades are funded by survivors.
The techno-pessimism that fuels it is just like in the show. Pantheon foresees a UI future that doesn’t benefit regular people so much as it enriches corporations. As a metaverse Severance, though one with more visible seams, it explores how a dream of liberation from the workplace can turn out to be a prison of one’s own making. It also asks how technology can bring back a troubled teenager with her father. Although that tension cannot be resolved definitively, it can fuel many episodes of drama at both the intimate and large scales.
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