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Despite uncanny valley and singularity, Microsoft’s former TV series ‘Humans’ a hit

Jun 29, 20154 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The TV series 'Humans' was the brainchild of Microsoft, but the company backed out of co-producing it. The series premiered without Microsoft and reviews indicate that audiences love it.

Uncanny valley suggests humans are especially creeped out, or at least uneasy, when a robot really resembles a human. Whether or not robotics professor Masahiro Mori was correct in his hypothesis, TV viewers seem more enthralled than repulsed with robots “made in our image” after the first episode of Humans aired on Sunday. The show has an 8.1 of 10 rating on IMDb and 93% of the audience “liked it” according to Rotten Tomatoes.

In April 2014, Xbox Entertainment Studios announced that it would collaborate with UK broadcaster Channel 4 to co-produce Humans. At the time, Microsoft promised the show would include “exclusive interactive features, aimed at Millennials.”

Humans was described as being “set in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way they live, one strained suburban family purchases a refurbished synth only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences.”

Despite Microsoft trying to woo potential advertisers and partners, Neowin pointed out that potential partners described Xbox Entertainment Studios as a “disorganized studio that struggles to close deals and lacks a fully fleshed-out business model.”

But if you watched and enjoyed Humans, then you can appreciate the series potential even though Microsoft quietly dropped out of producing the show, which was to be chock-full of “engaging interactive features” showing off Xbox platform capabilities. If you didn’t catch the first episode, AMC allows people to stream Humans without logging in.

No spoilers, but so far besides straddling the uncanny valley, the show touched on the topic of singularity, when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than humans. Many tech-wise individuals like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak have warned against this threat, as super-intelligent AI might mean the end of humans…basically Skynet, yet still AI experts keep going such as by building the “world’s angriest robot.”

Xbox Entertainment Studios may have shuttered, but Microsoft has not completely walked away from Humans, as Microsoft advertising explained earlier this year. UK’s Channel 4 “created a pseudo brand, Persona Synthetics, and worked with the creative technologists at Microsoft to create a shop front offering consumers the chance to interact with and bid on robotic assistants – called ‘Synths’.”

It took 12 weeks to create the futuristic advertising installation in London, but this “new and exciting” ad experience was worth it as “people no longer differentiate from on and offline experiences.” Microsoft said its “Digital Trends research indicates that 49% of global consumers are more likely to engage with digital experiences that seamlessly integrate with their physical worlds.”

Microsoft’s Creative Technologist Frazer Hurrell added:

The ‘Synths’ are able to see, track and respond to people’s movements as they pass by the installation, which uses animations across two meter high screens that can be controlled by passers-by. The Kinect functionality means the Synths can lock onto an individual and reacts to their interactions, connecting with consumers creatively.

The models beckon passers-by over to interact, waving and pointing to direct the user to the correct position in front of them. Consumers are then invited to ‘bond’ with the Synths by raising their hands to connect. They are then able to explore features of the Synth and personalize them by hovering over icons to add skills such as cooking, driving and even personal training.

At any rate, if you haven’t seen Humans then you might want to check it out. Microsoft was likely right about the series being a hit even if it missed the mark by thinking “exclusive interactive features” would be needed to make the show a success.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.