Monday, February 1

'I Don't Feel Like a Copy, Daddy'

The pilot for Syfy's series "Caprica" was first made available to the public last April, so it's fair to say that the second episode (tonight from 9-10 p.m. ET) has been a long time coming. Those with time on their hands can argue about whether the wait was worth it until the Cylons come home. The cool thing is that even the most casual viewer may discover food for thought here.
"Caprica" is a prequel to Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica," and purports to explain the origins of that franchise's conflict between humans fighting for their survival and robot-slaves turned aggrieved aggressors.
Thankfully, "Caprica" can be enjoyed without any reference to the literal past or the figurative future. Far from the realm of ramming spacecraft, deadly rays and tylium ore, it is set in a modern metropolis where digital enhancements and futuristic gadgetry adorn otherwise recognizable living rooms and office suites. The residents, no matter what their planetary origin and cultural quirks, take human form.

In the "Caprica" pilot we were introduced to two men who will drive the main plot—and innumerable side stories—from now on. One is industrialist Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), who has grown rich inventing devices like the holoband, which works as a pair of virtual-reality glasses for customers interested in escaping the illusion of a mortal coil to frolic in a cyber world. On a bigger scale, he is now vying for a government contract to sell the military a Terminator-like robot capable of blasting all enemies to oblivion.
The other man is Joseph Adama (Esai Morales), an immigrant from the planet Tauron. He is a reluctant lawyer for organized crime who adopted the WASPy surname Adams until a terrorist explosion that took his wife and daughter unleashed his simmering planethnic pride. Adama and Graystone meet when they discover that each has lost a beloved teenage daughter in the explosion.
Or have they? Fiddling around with the computer and holoband of his dead daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), Graystone stumbles into a virtual room where she has left an avatar of herself: a copy so lifelike, and so stuffed with Zoe's own memories, that his initial shock and revulsion melt as the two embrace. From now on, his quest will be to find a way to bring the avatar of his daughter from the cyber world into the real one.
This subject is not virgin territory, and it never seems to end well. Graystone's first attempt to marry the digital record of Zoe's mind with a physical form is a poignant disaster of the Frankenstein sort. Nearly two centuries after the novel that named the pitiful monster, the movie "AI: Artificial Intelligence" explored the theme of using technology and science to make loveable copies of lost ones, also with heart-wrenching results.
But still we respond to, even cling to, the idea of replicating that which we have lost or desire. As Zoe and her father point out, the human brain is basically information and a data processor. So much information about us already exists outside our physical heads—in everything from phone records to email to home video and CAT scans—that the concept of artificial selves resonates. We know that the scientific barrier may be unbreachable. But the mental one has already been crossed. Cyber dating, even blogging—all that contact with people we will never meet, touch or smell: If this is enough for numbers of us, and even satisfying to some, can avatar friends and lovers be far behind?
All they may have to do is display a tiny shred of unmistakable humanity. In "Caprica," Graystone is disgusted by the hologram of his daughter and at the suggestion that he could bond with a digital image. But all it takes is for the digital image to act human: "I don't feel like a copy, Daddy," she weeps—and his resistance is over.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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