It was the biggest drama Channel 4 has produced in over 20 years, and tonight Humans returned with an incredible new series.
As well as being reunited with Mia (Gemma Chan), Leo (Colin Morgan) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) we also met a brand new synth, Hester.
Hester was an industrial synth working at a power plant until she gained consciousness thanks to Niska (Emily Berrington) activating the code that gave around 1 in 100,000 synths around the world the ability to think for themselves.
Actress Sonya Cassidy, who plays Hester, tells us all about the character, starring in Humans, and what the future holds for artificial intelligence (AI)…
Hi Sonya. Can you tell us a bit about Hester?
“The synths that we know and love from the first series were created to love and to be a family. They had support and discipline and structure. Whereas Hester, as an industrial synth, is coming from a very clinical environment and an environment that is bereft of any emotion or support or human interaction of a positive kind.
“She would have been very badly treated. She’s seen other synths treated very poorly so as soon as she comes online, all of that data that is stored as memory is suddenly assigned emotions and feelings and sensations that she can’t understand or work out. And I think a synth, to not understand what’s going on – for something to think or feel illogical – is really traumatising for them. So she’s processing all that while effectively being on the run.”
We saw her attack several humans in the first episode. Is she going to pose a threat to the humans and even synths around her in upcoming episodes?
“I’m sort of loath to say too much because there’s so much that happens in the show and each time that we got the scripts through, the scope of it just got bigger and bigger and there were surprises each time, so I don’t want to spoil any of what’s to come! But I think that Hester acts in a way that sometimes we may disagree with, and other times you absolutely agree with. It makes sense to her.
“And like any human being, some human beings will respond very emotionally to stressful situations and others will shut down almost and just get from A to B and deal with what’s in front of them and power through. And Hester is more of that way of thinking and acting. But everything she does is justified.”
What did you think when you got the scripts for the show?
“Oh gosh I was thrilled. I think the journey that she and all the characters go on is so compelling and raises wonderful challenges for those synths and those characters that we already know and love in the show, but also for an audience as well I think. The writers are delving even deeper into AI and what that means for us as humans, what that means for technology and our world and to be playing a character that affects those things hugely…it’s very exciting.”
Had you seen Humans when it was on TV?
“I did, yeah! I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. So when this came through I was doing my best synth impression around the flat which made for some hilarious goings on at various points. But thankfully it worked, and two rounds of auditions later I was bringing Hester to life!”
Did you have any strong opinions on artificial intelligence before you did the show? And then did that change?
“I confess I was a bit of a dinosaur before I did this. I had my phone and my iPad and stuff but I’m not up to date with all the tech stuff that is going on. I’m quite minimal in that sense. But since delving into this even more as part of the research for the show, I’ve been so bowled over by the stuff that’s going on. I think there are a huge number of positives, but there are of course negatives as well.
“I think we should all be thinking about it and discussing it more and more. You don’t have to be into sci-fi, you don’t have to work in tech or science. But I think all of us could benefit from understanding more about the pros and cons and ensuring it is a part of the political and social conversation rather than something that’s happening at a very quick rate in Silicon Valley. So for me that has been really illuminating.”
Is it something that we should be worried about, do you think?
“There are very real ethical concerns and I applaud people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk who are doing their best to raise awareness of that. But I wonder if you were to ask most people their opinion on AI, they might have an image of say, Terminator, which is very extreme and very much rooted in the glorious world of sci-fi. I don’t think it’s necessarily about that.
“We’re effectively writing our future, and although that’s incredibly exciting in a lot of ways I wonder whether we may need ‘to kill a few darlings’ because there are ethics around it. What if it got into the wrong hands? We need to remember this…”
Humans continues on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.
Photo credit: Channel 4