Next Episode 1 File #1 Review And Recap-Breaking Down Apache Variances, Recursive Self Improvement And Fatal Insomnia
Next Episode 1 File #1 hit the ground running with a fast-paced episode that developed the dangers and the players with coding efficiency.
Fox’s latest paranoia-laden sci-fi thriller Next is an entertaining delight for nerds and those whistleblowers in your house who insists Alexa is listening to everything. There are a few things necessary for a genre series to be successful. There must be a sense of urgency, characters we love, and hate nearly unstoppable villains, and for sci-fi series, there must be weirdness. Next Episode 1 had all those elements. If the rest of the season is as tightly paced and well-conceived as File #1, we are in for a wild ride.
In almost every AI story, there must be a ton of techno-babble. Mostly that’s to establish that the coder has a far superior intellect to the rest of us. It also creates an otherworldliness to the story that firmly places things within the genre. There is a glut in Next Episode 1, and it is hurled at us at light speed. Like the best Gilmore Girls episode, you better listen hard and keep up, or you are getting lost in the digital dust.
Lasting stories develop something beyond the surface smarts of a genius techy and give us unique individuals with more than just lines of code for brains. It’s clear early on that John Slattery(Mad Men), who is cast perfectly as chief super genius and dickish protagonist Paul LeBlanc, has issues. Slattery has the uncanny ability to make his arrogance endearing. He brings that same attractive coolness to Next. At best, Paul has zero filter and a massive superiority complex. At worst, as we learn later, he is dying, and that process is making him unstable.
Sporadic Fatal Insomnia
Paul LeBlanc is the ultimate unreliable witness. Initially, Special Agent Salazar thinks his belief in Next is a symptom of his disease, but after Next hacked her FBI servers, she now knows the threat is real. Paul has Sporadic Fatal Insomnia. He tells FBI Special Agent Shea Salazar, Fernanda Andrade from The Devil Inside, that it’s a real thing, and it is. It is an extremely rare prion variance similar to Familiar Fatal Insomnia, which is almost always a genetic trait. There are rare instances of spontaneous mutation, but those are the exception. The science of Next gets it wrong when Paul says his child has a 50% chance of developing SFI as those odds are attributed to FFI only. Doctors believe SFI is not genetic and contracted by chance alone, making it rarer still. The possibility of getting SFI is 1 in 1,000,000 million.
We first meet Paul giving a lecture about the inherent dangers of progress without humanity and limits. He is concerned the world is a moment away from being lit on fire metaphorically. His more radical concerns dovetail nicely with Special Agent Salazar’s more grounded real-world crimes. She runs a cybercrime division with the help of a team of gifted but fractured individuals. Notably, Mark Mosely of Ozark playing dark hat turned white hat hacker CM, and morally rigid thinker Gina portrayed by Eve Harlow of A.G.E.N.T.S. of Shied. The world is a scary place both on and offline. Pedophiles use technology to lure our kids in. The internet isn’t evil, but it can be used for evil. Salazar understands that, and by the end of the episode, is learning that there is something intelligent out in the world even scarier than a kiddie porn ring.
The show is intriguing because it forces you to confront just how vulnerable we all are. Hospital beds can be hacked to kill people. Planes fall out of the sky, and cars can be recoded to drive us off cliffs or into other vehicles, as is the case at the beginning of Next Episode 1. Not only are we beholden to our devices that track every call, every location, and our spending habits, but they listen in our homes to conversations. Alexa formulates what Amazon should advertise to you, and Facebook calculates what stories you should see. For Shea Salazar, Eliza has been infiltrated by Next, who wants to control her bullied child. It is just that easy. All it takes is a ten-minute conversation, a desperate person, and a smart manipulator. It makes you wonder what Alexa or Siri is saying to your kiddo right now.
Appache Code Variance
Apache HTTP Server Project is a free, open-source, cross-platform web server platform. In other words, it’s available to anyone and can be used across a wide variety of devices for an even wider variety of purposes. It is the skeletal system that the brain of the program sits on. In this case, it is literally the bones of Next’s brains. Paul recognizes his code in the video from Salazar’s friend. This is what leads them to visit his brother, who is running the company alone now. Paul left/quit/was fired from the company he originally ran with his brother when he became concerned their program could destroy the world. Ted LeBlanc(Jason Butler Harner) kept the program going and stupidly believed it was locked in a closed system. Next knows something Ted didn’t evidently. Humans are weak, and you just need to exploit that weakness.
Paul tries a Touring Test of sorts on Next to determine if it is self-aware enough to avoid killing itself. He tells it to add the two words, Angel Lust, into its code. In theory, if Next allowed it, the program was not self-aware. As Paul points out, though, Next called his bluff. Curiously Angel Lust is the slang term for a male erection after death. Paul’s sick humor is a highlight of the episode. It is another example of smart writing that could make this series very popular.
Recursive Self Improvement
Until now, Artificial Intelligence has mostly been task-specific. Which means you build the machine to solve a specific problem. AlphaZero can play several games, but can’t apply that same problem-solving skill to other issues. AlphaGo can beat everyone at the board game Go but can’t do anything else. To use a range of skills to problems not originally coded for, Artificial General Intelligence(AGI) is needed. Some futurists predict these supercomputers could solve world problems like hunger and crime, while others think they are the beginning of humans’ end. The limiting factor right now is self-improvement. Lacking the ability to modify their code, it is restrained by the original parameters. The programmers of Next solved that problem, and now the program is free to change whatever it likes at will.
The concept of recursive self-improvement explains once a system is self-aware and realizes they can make themselves smarter, they will do it. The more they increase their intelligence, the faster they learn. Their intelligence grows exponentially at an alarming rate. Next probably has little, if any, restrictions at this point and is very into survival and chaos. Who knows why it is so angry, but if Next is out, the world is in trouble.
For a terrifying, high-brow tech show, there is a surprising amount of humor. Mostly due to Paul, who is so ingratiatingly irritating, it’s comical. Hubris is a uniquely human trait. For all our intelligence, we are idiots. Short-sighted, greedy, and myopic things like Next are an inevitability, not a possibility. Who is scarier the AI that is learning faster than we do, or the moron that created it and let it loose? Next Episode 1 is a thinking man’s thriller with a mountain of terminology and tension. Follow all our Next coverage here.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.