Alienating the Anthropocene: Case 1. Westworld

seminar PhD University of Amsterdam lecture cultural analysis Film-Philosophy
westworld cybernetics AI research as agent's right HEZ fully-automated zone TAZ

Project Summary

I was the guest presenter of Patrcia Pisters and Josef Früchtl's Film-Philosophy PhD Seminar Machinic Ecologies, the Episteme of Creativity, and the Anthropocene at Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam, session #6 in April 2017.

I worked alone in the seminar session's conception and realization. I assigned a set of pre-session readings by Orit Halpern, Matteo Pasquinelli, Luciana Parisi, and Benjamin Bratton. I led the 3 hour session consisting of 1.5 hours lecture in the mode of close readings of the first season of HBO’s TV sci fi thriller series Westworld (2016) through the use of theory presented in the assigned readings, followed by 1.5 hours provocation and moderation of group discussion between the participating university lecturers, post-doc researchers, and PhD candidates. I worked in the methodology of aesthetic analysis and group discussion deriving from the assigned reading.

HBO’s TV series Westworld (2016) is “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin.” The sci-fi thriller, which jumps (roughly) between the years 2022 and 2052, takes place in luxury theme park set in the American Wild West that is populated by artificial intelligent (AI) robots called “hosts.” The park is a fully immersive environment where the elite (the park’s rate starts at 5,000 dollars a day) can live without limits – i.e., murder and rape are play for novices. Adventurous guests can learn about their true selves by traversing into the depths of the host’s stories and the seemingly infinite maze of the park.

In conducting the seminar, I drew a parallel between Westworld and the contemporary computational frontier in AI development. This parallel helps conceive of a post-Anthropocene. Where the Anthropocene can be understood as an ultimate achievement of capitalism (as a platform of domination) and anthropocentrism (as a mode of human as centrifugal planetary force), a post- Anthropocene necessitates a displacement of both the human from this position and capitalism as systemic global condition. Throughout the program’s first season, the intricate politics of the Westworld, as corporation, site, and infrastructure, reveal that it is greater than just a theme park addressing topics of reality and being through AI robots gone awry. At large, Westworld is a ubiquitous computational world that permits the necessary rethink- ing of intelligence, sentience, and the autonomy of inhuman and human en- tities as interoperable agents. The con- temporary focus on making AI robots ever more human(like) reinforces an anthropocentric and simply outmoded approach that cuts short the potential of computational technologies. This potential is more of a demand – a demand for philosophizing and designing for planetary-scale symbiosis of the inhuman and human – rather than robot mimetics and systems of affective and cognitive capitalism.

The show’s intricately woven temporal and spatial plots and collisions of hardware, software, and wetware surface questions of autonomy, agency, and affect – questions that challenge the makers’, and investors’, control of AI – as hosts and as data. This analysis of aesthetic tropes and politics of Westworld aims to help keep the machines from being merely human and contribute to an alienation from anthropocentric time and scale (Benjamin Bratton, Patricia Reed).


  • Proposal that coupled with the rogue and immersive AI bodies landscapes, the trope of manifest destiny in the show propels a 4th wave cybernetics as a form of world-making – i.e., multispecies computational user-agent as political subject within and by AI.
  • Proposition of research as an agent’s right, as inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s notion of research as a human right, to be as integral to the proposed next wave of cybernetics.
  • Consideration that self-reflexivity through catastrophe, memory, and suffering of AI and human characters, as an awakening, is the aesthetic passage through the original sin of capital-nation-state paradigm. This passage is the conductor of war through which new federations may be born and scalar zones of AI and human determined. This power play may consist of data and patent owner- ship and speed of information accessed.

Concluding Questions

  • What components are isolated and bound to fully automated landscapes, and what are the resources to be exchanged (such as logics); how might they be licensed, patented, distributed; what information is to be bundled?
  • Might these sites or zones be treated within open-water inter- national law models, and in what sense do they figure into zones of transport (of what bodies, materials, energy, waste), displacing contemporary notions of pas- sages. Culturally, could these be considered forms of user pilgrimages?
  • What might occur if we approach contemporary automated zones, and/or Human Exclusion Zones (whether of biological or machinic dominance), with the conception of research as an agent’s right (i.e., learning, training), as proposed in this presentation’s philosophical and aesthetic investigation of Westworld’s reality systems, a case of Temporary and/or Permanent Autonomous Zones?
  • Considering more recent cases of AI and legal rights, how might Estonia’s proposition of Kratt Law serve as a case study when coupled with what determines subject to territory to resources?


1.Temporality, Storage, and Interactivity in Cybernetics by Orit Halpern, Beautiful Data (chapter 1, 39-78; 39 pages)

2.Introduction by Matteo Pasquinelli in Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and its Traumas (7-18; 11 pages)

3.Instrumental Reason, Algorithmic Capitalism, and the Incomputable by Luciana Parisi in Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and its Traumas (125-139; 14 pages)

4.Some Trace Effects of the Post-Anthropocene: On Accelerationist Geopolitical Aesthetics by Benjamin Bratton, e-flux (infinite scroll bliss)🝏