‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’ Recap: A.I. Knows Best In Autofac
Sit back, relax, and let the Autofac take care of all your consumerist needs—that’s the version of the future we’re introduced to in the season finale episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. The episode, which stars Janelle Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures) and Juno Temple (Vinyl), is set—surprise!—in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world where most of humanity has been wiped out by war.
The problem, like, beyond the whole decimation of our species thing, is that no one seems to have let the Autofac in on the big news. It keeps producing all the crap we used to “need” for people who no longer exist. The result? Heaps of unused flip flops and fidget spinners and rapidly diminishing natural resources. The Autofac must be stopped.
To that end, a group of survivors hack into the Autofac’s customer service interface in order to get its attention. They’re successful and the factory sends its robotic representative (Monáe) to meet with them. Their aim is to ask it to stop making a bunch of junk they don’t need, but the Autofac’s AI is certain it knows best. It can’t be dissuaded of the idea that consumers need consumer goods (as opposed to plants, air, water, and sunshine).
When the negotiations hit a roadblock, the community switches to Plan B: hack the PR bot
and use it take down the factory from the inside. That’s when we find out that this artificially intelligent robot is far more intelligent than anyone anticipated. Emily, the village’s resident computer genius (Temple,) can’t alter her complex code fast enough, so she decides to wipe the drive completely. But Alice, the robot, has a distinctly human sense of self-preservation. In order to survive, she agrees to cooperate.
Inside the Autofac, the rebels are quickly cut down as they attempt to detonate their nuclear warheads but Temple’s character accompanies Alice into the factory’s core, the place where they manufacture their key product… consumers. Just as it seems that Alice has regained the upper hand, we find out that this has been Emily’s’ plan all along—she knows that the Autofac has been making not just consumer goods, but consumers, too. She knows she’s one of them and she knows who she’s been modelled after.
Her understanding of those consumers, of her community, goes beyond what the Autofac knows. They believe they’re human and Emily thinks they’re becoming that. To know for sure, she has to take the Autofac out of the equation and let them continue to evolve on their own. Alice plays right into her hands by hooking her up to the Autofac system and she pumps it full of the virus she had ready and waiting.
Bye bye, Autofac. Hello, Humanity 2.0.