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SXSW 2018: “Westworld,” Elon Musk, and the Future of Technology

The co-creators and cast of HBO’s “Westworld”  joined together at SXSW on March 10 to talk about season two, the frightening future of AI, and how the show has impacted them personally. Moderator Jason Tanz (Director of Wired.com) guided the discussion with co-creators Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, and actors Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright.

Westworld Panel at SXSW | Photo by Leigh Kettle
Westworld Panel at SXSW | Photo by Leigh Kettle

The session opened with a much anticipated sneak peek of season two which previews a tense scene where Evan Rachel Wood’s character Dolores holds her two makers at gun point, alluding to a season full of rebellion, action, and continued questions about existence and reality. “Each season is like an installment,” Nolan claimed. “And the only way that I know how to do that is to change the game every season.”

The actors admitted that they themselves don’t even know what to expect in the seasons to come and share the same confusion and frustration that us viewers experience each and every episode. “You feel this looming sense of dread when you walk up to the set, because we don’t really get to know what’s going to happen, or what’s in store for us,” said Woods. “We get really excited, and then we remember what show we’re on and we’re like, oh none of this ends well.”

When asked about how it feels playing strong female roles in a genre that is traditionally male-dominated, Newton immediately shouted, “Normal! It felt normal!” Both Woods and Newton continued on to express their love for their characters and how they have inspired themselves personally. “I just want to play truth, and very often the truth of the characters I play as a woman is that she’s powerful, she’s intelligent,” declared Newton.

Nolan was then asked his thoughts on the frightening possibility of an AI apocalypse. “I think we’d be lucky if this is what our AI apocalypse looks like, if it was this attractive and charming,” he said.  He continued on to discuss the current implications of AI, specifically concerns about bots manipulating social media users. “You don’t need a very smart AI to manipulate Twitter, Facebook. You just need some version of an intent,” suggested Nolan.

Panel questions concluded after an audience member asked actors how they deal with working on such a dark and heavy show. Actors all agreed that though it is a struggle at times, it’s a challenge that each of them have signed up for and are willing to talk about both together and with others.

As with nearly every episode in the show, the panel itself ended with a twist. Recognizing that the session didn’t necessarily comprise of the most positive talking points, Nolan surprised the audience by announcing he wanted to end it on an optimistic note, “in the spirit of this place (SXSW).” Minutes after, Elon Musk, SpaceX, founder walked on stage to join Nolan in introducing a reel of the recent Falcon Heavy launch they worked on.  What better track to set it to than David Bowie’s “Starman”?

Musk emotionally ended the session with the following quote, sparking us all with a sense of  inspiration, optimism, and imagination. “Life cannot just be about solving one miserable problem after another. That can’t be the whole thing. There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be apart of humanity, that’s why we did this.”

Make sure to check out more coverage of SXSW 2018 here

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