Fox at TCA:  A Bad Day for Alexa

By Ed Martin Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Fox at TCA:  A Bad Day for Alexa

Pasadena, CA -- As CES kicked into gear Tuesday in Las Vegas, TCA got underway in Pasadena, and in a thought-provoking coincidence one of the panels was about an upcoming scripted series that will explore the expected and unexpected dangers of advancements in technology, specifically artificial intelligence.

It was Fox’s day at the annual Winter Television Critics Association tour, and the show in question, titled neXt, was one of six new series the network promoted.  It was no surprise that it was the most animated session of the day, given the subject matter.  Fox describes the show as “a propulsive, fact-based thriller about the emergence of a deadly rogue artificial intelligence” that threatens the future of humankind.  To say it is not a reality show is perhaps not entirely true.

It was the first day of the tour, so the press was fresh, which made for spirited questioning.  “I want to know, how soon after you read the pilot script did you unplug your Alexa?” one critic asked of the entire panel, setting the tone for the session to follow.

“We gave out Alexas as crew gifts,” said series creator and executive producer Manny Coto after the laughter in the room died down.

“And nobody opened them!” added John Slattery, who stars in the show.  “They watched the pilot, and then they all gave them back.”

“Are any of you legitimately concerned that this is a real thing that is happening?” the critic continued.

The answers then became a little more serious.

“One hundred percent,” said co-star Jason Butler Harner.

“I’m, like, ‘They’re listening to us!’” added Eve Harlow, who also stars.

“I don’t have an Alexa,” Slattery said.  “I’m shit scared.”

“To me, the whole premise of the show started because of Alexa,” Coto revealed.  “My son was really tired one morning, and I was, like, ‘What’s the matter?’  And he said, ‘My Alexa started talking to me at 3:00 a.m. out of the blue by itself for no reason.’  He claims this has happened a couple times.  I didn’t know if he [had] set an alarm or what happened.  We never got down to the mystery, but those things seem to have a mind of their own every once in a while.  We still have five of them in the house because the kids won’t let me get rid of them.”

“You have a conversation with someone, and the next day, your phone is blowing up with ads for whatever you were talking about,” Slattery said.  “I mean, every time you look at Instagram and you hit something, you’re loaded up with ads for whatever.  It’s obviously watching.  There’s evidence all over the place.  I live a boring enough life [so] I don’t care.”

“The premise of the show actually came from research that I had read,” Coto explained.  “One of the things I read is that if an AI were to accidentally become super-intelligent, one of the first things it would want to do is not allow anyone to find out that it had become super-intelligent, because it [would want] to gain a foothold wherever it’s going before we have a chance to kind of fight back, which I found really interesting.  It would basically play dumb, which kind of led to the premise, meaning if a group of people found out about it, it would not strike in large, huge assaults.  It would kind of go after them in the smallest ways possible so as not to be detected, which inherently led to a story and a season whereby this AI, which knows everything about our characters, is actually attacking them through their personal lives and slowly trying to destroy their lives and their careers so that they can in turn not attack it.”

Talking later about one of the characters, Coto chillingly added, “Going on the premise that the AI is going to probe into all of our pasts and use what we have done in the past, the secrets we have, everything we’ve done, I tried to create characters that would all have something.  It really came out of the idea of trying to build characters that this AI could come after.”

Season one, he said, is “structured as a manhunt.  The AI is something [the characters] have to find, because it is not an AI like in some movies … the kind that exist in the cloud and can spread everywhere.  This one has a very specific architecture and a very specific set of computers.  It’s kind of like a lot of the lone voices in the wilderness basically saying, ‘This is out there.  We have to destroy it.’  No one believes them, because if somebody came to you and said there was an AI super-intelligence out there, you’d be laughed out of the room.  Our characters are very much operating on their own, and it’s basically a chase.  Along the way, the AI is striking back.  It is not just sitting passively.  It is being very intelligent in the way that it goes after each one of our characters.

“In the pilot there’s the kid with the Alexa,” he continued.  “There’s a reason behind that.  It is trying to do something to the kid to create a situation.  It’s not going for large scale nuclear attacks or anything like that.  It’s trying to systematically take out these people in a way that no one will notice, [so that] by the end of the season, no one will be able to say, ‘Wow, there was an AI out there.’ 

“The research that I read pretty much all said that if this were actually to happen, if a super-intelligence were to be created, it would happen really quickly, and we probably would lose,” he said.  “Hopefully, I’ve created a scenario where we can possibly believe that we have a shot.”

Click on the social media tiles above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively those of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of, Inc. management or associated bloggers.

Copyright ©2023 MediaVillage, Inc. All rights reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.