Monday, October 17, 2016, 8:00am

Screw everything else. Let’s talk about Westworld.

Westworld - Poster

I could talk about politics, but honestly, I can’t take the heartburn. I could talk about what an awesome movie the new Ghostbusters turned out to be. We saw it this weekend, and it was a blast. But I really don’t have the energy to deal with any asshats that might crawl out of the woodwork over that.

So instead, let’s talk about Westworld, which is the new HBO spectacle based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie of the same name.

FYI, people: very mild spoilers.

This show, people. Holy crap. Okay, so, I’m not going to waste your time telling you how good it is, because everyone on the Internet is already telling you how good it is. It’s excellent. Just watch it.

I’m also not going to waste your time telling you all about the wild theories fans of the show are spawning. They’re easy enough to look up and the fans are kicking them out at such a rate of velocity that there’ll probably be ten more to cover before I even get this paragraph done.

Instead, we need to talk about what a hot, festering mess this theme park is. Just, good lord, people, this park is a horror show, and its operators are the worst bunch of incompetent, spaghetti-programming boobs on Earth.

Westworld - Adventuring

Pictured: Adventuring.

Westworld is a theme park where rich people go to be utter monsters.

Delos Inc. runs a Wild West-themed park, Westworld. For a ridiculous amount of money, you can spend some time in it, doing anything you want. Literally anything. Booze and sex, rape and pillage, indiscriminate murder, whatever you want. I mean, you can also go hiking or camping, go on a treasure hunt, be a bounty hunter and catch the bad guys and stuff like that, but the marketing for this park is pretty heavy on the vice.

If you head over to DiscoverWestworld.com (which, incidentally, appears to be home to an ARG), you can play around with a chatbot, “book” a stay and check out all the marketing. Poke all the buttons, give it a good once-over, and you’ll see what I mean. The site mentions more family-friendly activities, and in the first episode we see a family with a little boy in the park, but it’s pretty clear that Westworld is mostly intended as a playground for rich adults to go get their homicidal maniac on.

Just to reinforce the point, the first place you arrive at in Westworld is a little town called Sweetwater, where there’s a bordello, semi-regular gunfights and shootouts, rampant whoring, boozing and slaughtering, and more family fun-type activities. And that’s not to mention the park guests, themselves, most of whom seem to feel perfectly free to just murder and maim in the streets. This is, as far as I can tell, where you and your little kids would get their start in the park.

Of course, this description begs the question of who you’ll be murdering, raping, maiming, sexing up, and boozing with, and the answer to that is the “Hosts,” organic robots that are so lifelike as to pass easily for human.

The Hosts aren’t sentient or conscious, in theory. They’re just very lifelike AIs in 3D-printed, mostly organic bodies. They’re there to be the NPCs in your story. They have little stories to play out, and go about doing their little story things, just like any other MMORPG you’ve ever played. They’re your entrance into whatever adventure you’re interested in acting out.

Hosts are just very well programmed bots that help you act out your fantasy. They’re unable to hurt you, so basically you’re playing this game in god mode. You can do whatever you want to them, but they can’t do anything to you, except play along in your nightly orgies and lead you out on adventures, stuff like that.

Westworld - Cost

This is a positively ludicrous amount of money. Click to enlarge.

Westworld is stupid expensive and there’s no possible way it’s turning a profit.

So, first thing about Westworld: it’s gotta be hella expensive. That invoice up there booked me out at almost $450,000 for two weeks – that’s one week in the park, and one week in the “decompression” resort, where you get over the game you just lived in for a week. Clearly the TV show is set in the future, and we’re not given any real idea of how expensive Westworld is to visit by comparison to today’s standards, but no one acts like it’s a cheap experience. This ain’t a trip to Disneyland, folks.

And there’s no Earthly way it could be a cheap experience, because Westworld must be a goddamn monster of a park to run, financially speaking. Just what it would take to build, maintain and program the Hosts, alone, would be so expensive as to be impossible.

The Hosts aren’t a common item in the world of the TV show, as far as I can tell. Like, you aren’t buying a Host or a Host-like bot to buttle for you at home or anything. The park guests seem very entranced with the Hosts, like they can’t believe what they’re seeing, so they aren’t used to Host-like robots. Which would indicate that this is a proprietary technology, which means it isn’t in common-enough use to have gotten cheap and easy, like a smartphone or a PC or whatever. Add to that the fact that we’ve got the park boss, Theresa Cullen, fussing over adding new bots because they’re so expensive, and we know those aren’t cheap.

Then you have the actual park itself. We don’t have a lot of information on where or what Westworld actually is as a location. Like, did Delos just buy Arizona? Is it some kind of massive, domed thing? Is it on the moon, or another planet? We don’t know. I assume the Arizona thing isn’t the answer, which means Westworld had to be built and maintained, and the thing is huge, apparently, so that’s expensive, too.

Then you’ve got all the park amenities, the resort where you decompress, salaries, staff, techs, all the labs and equipment you need to build and repair Hosts…

What I’m getting at here is that Westworld has to be a nigh-insurmountable expense to run, so even charging $450,000 a visit, there’s no way they can be making any kind of a profit like this. Especially since they can’t possibly have that many guests at once. I mean, who can just drop half a mil on a vacation whenever they want? Even Bill Gates money doesn’t get you a Westworld vacation very often.

Plus, if you have too many guests in the park at a time, you’ll have guests tripping over each other in the storylines, messing the games up. Unless, of course, Westworld actually is just that frickin’ massive, and there are just that many Hosts, but then you’ve got issues of scale, and the money still doesn’t equal out.

I suppose this could just be lazy writing and handwavium, but we’ve heard the park staff muttering about the displeasure of the Board of Directors, so I’m thinking that maybe Westworld isn’t making so much bank that they can just run the park willy-nilly.

We’ve also had mutterings about ulterior motives behind Westworld, too, so maybe the park is subsidized by folks with possibly nefarious ends in mind. It would practically have to be a subsidized venture, just to keep the doors open.

(Clearly DARPA is at least partially funding this thing. DARPA is using Westworld to conduct research on building Terminators. You heard it here first, folks.)

And it’s weird that Delos is spending this kind of money, since 90% of it could be done just as well with much cheaper human actors. You wouldn’t be able to literally murder and rape human actors, though. So again: the point of Westworld is for rich people to go be abominable monsters in something as close to real life as possible. Otherwise you could do this with actors or VR for a much more reasonable price.

Westworld - Hosts

Don’t be fooled. This thing is just waiting for the first opportunity to eat your face.

The Hosts are an apocalypse looking for a place to happen.

Okay. Let’s look at these Hosts and their dumbass programmers. The Hosts have their memories wiped on the regular. Why?

One reason you would reset your machine every night is if you’re afraid someone would deliberately or accidentally do something to damage its programming. So, you might do a nightly reset and update for the Hosts to make sure some little snot-nosed rich brat didn’t hack one of them during the day. That could be an issue, especially since the bots are all voice controlled, for the most part, and we haven’t seen what kind of other security measures park staff might be employing against hacking.

And you know that has to be happening. That’s basically the first thing gamers try to do, is hack the system. This should be a monthly occurrence:

Park Tech 1: Dammit, someone hacked Teddy again.
Park Tech 2: What’s he doing?
Park Tech 1: Pissing on everyone in Sweetwater, one at a time, while singing The Star Spangled Banner.
Park Tech 2: Again? Didn’t we get that yesterday?
Park Tech 1: No, yesterday he was singing Mmm-Bop.

But we know that the Westworld staff is at least a little concerned about something else entirely. There’s a line in the first episode, from either Bernard or Elsie, to the effect of “Can you imagine if they remembered what we did to them?”

Dude. Dude. If that’s a problem, you have already FUBARed the whole project.

If they actually can’t feel anything or act on their own, why would it matter if they remember things or not? Is the Westworld staff worried that what their awful, awful park guests are doing might damage the Hosts’ programming? If so, why are they encouraging their guests to do that stuff? Why are they programming their bots to break if they’re subjected to too many horrors? If the bots can’t think and can’t feel, then honestly, you should be able to rape and murder them ten times an hour every day with no problems at all.

If my phone breaks every other time I open the Facebook app unless I wipe it back to default every night, that’s either a crappy phone or a super bad app. Either way, it’s no good. If your bots’ programming is breaking down due to the constant violence, then you have a problem with your programming, because that shouldn’t be bothering them.

That’s the fundamental problem with the Hosts. They should not care in the least, teeniest bit about what’s being done to them. They should have no sense of bodily integrity, emotional damage, nothing. They are mobile dummies, extensively programmed to act out a part in a play. They should be operating on very careful, detailed if/then loops, basically. IF slapped, THEN cry, not IF slapped, feel bad, have feelings hurt, be angry, THEN cry, you see what I mean?

If they don’t think and feel, then it doesn’t matter if they store memories or not. If they do, then you don’t have robots, you have slaves made from artificial life forms. And if you have slaves, then you’re just one bad day away from a revolt.

Here’s another thing – in the second episode, one of the Hosts is taken to a lab to clean out a MRSA infection it picked up. One of the techs working on the Host says something like, “Something was causing her some discomfort, oh, here it is, MRSA.”

Discomfort? Like… pain? Seriously? You programmed them to feel pain? Why would you do that? Program them to mimic feeling pain, sure. But actually feel pain, like the line implies? Why? Did you want them to be mad at us?

And that’s not even to mention the “virus” that seems to be running rampant through the Host systems, despite nightly resets. The nightly reset should have fixed that, but it didn’t. Probably because Bernard is busy being a complete idiot with Delores, so the system is being re-infected every day.

Bernard is like your Grandma who calls you to come over and clean the spyware and viruses out of her computer. Then, when you’re done, she goes right back to the crappy, malware-filled Flash game she’s been playing that keeps ruining her computer. And this guy, this Grandma, is in charge of programing the robots. It’s a miracle Westworld doesn’t burn down every week.

Westworld - Safety

You know what you don’t see here? An off switch.

OSHA must have nightmares about Westworld.

There doesn’t appear to be a way to turn the park off. If something went catastrophically wrong, what would the Westworld staff do? None of their bots have an analogue off switch. “Sleep mode” is apparently unreliable – we’ve seen two different examples of that so far.

Further, the staff’s ability to monitor Westworld seems to entirely reliant on some human happening to notice that something’s gone wrong, in real time. For example, in the third episode, Elsie and Stubbs have to go track down a “stray” Host. This bot just… wandered away. It glitched out and buggered off. And it apparently took Westworld staff two days to notice it had happened. And then, their only option was to go out and physically find the damn thing.

That is absolutely ridiculous. These robots are physically capable of harming human beings and held back only by code, which is already proving suspect. There’s no way to completely shut down the robots – and not only that, but no way to completely and remotely shut down the robots. Worse, there’s no way to decommission the Hosts.

When the Hosts malfunction, the idiot park staff put ’em into sleep mode and stick them in the basement. Where, I am certain, they will never spontaneously reactivate as we’ve seen two other Hosts do and climb the stairs to slaughter the staff in their sleep during the explosive season climax.

This is just basic common sense when it comes to safety standards. Always have a way to power your machines all the way down. Always have analogue redundancies. When storing potential murderbots, always disconnect their motor functions physically. Always have a way to make the game stop, and then have two redundant ways to make the game stop.

The most aggravating part of this is the staff assuming that their – clearly – shoddy coding is the end-all, be-all of safety. They act as if they don’t need any more safety precautions, because their amazing code is so spectacular. I’m sure this is done for dramatic reasons, so we can see them fall prey to their arrogance during some climactic event or another, but in this day and age, it just seems so dumb.

Look, sometimes my computer blue screens for no apparent reason whatsoever. Programs crash. There are memory leaks. Bad apps break my smartphone. There are whole communities online devoted to finding all the broken, glitched-out crap that fills every computer game we play.

We are buried in tech up to our ears, and we know that despite the fact that our little techy toys are very expensive and carefully crafted, they could break down at any moment. Are you telling me that somehow, in Westworld’s nebulous future locale, they’ve forgotten that sometimes someone forgets to add a semicolon or close a parenthesis and shit just breaks? That’s not arrogant, that’s stupid.

Westworld - Robot Overlords

Seen here: Our robot overlords quietly plotting our demise.

But hey, don’t mind my anal retentive fussing. “Westworld” is an amazing show.

For all my complaining, this really is a great show. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already. It’s excellently acted with a deeply creepy story. Westworld slides into the Uncanny Valley and wallows in it, providing plenty of upsetting visuals and worrisome plot threads.

I just wish it was a little smarter about some things. When the wheels finally come off that park, I’ll be sitting there yelling “You had it coming!” instead of being surprised, which is a little annoying.

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