The Cambridge Geek

The Program audio series

The Program Audio Series is nominally an anthology science fiction show which are all joined by the thread of "The Program". The exact form the program takes varies somewhat from episode to episode, with different elements often focused on in different ways, but it is always a software tool that is easily confused with (or possibly is) general AI, in a way that makes it a powerful way of enhancing or controlling society.

For example, in early episodes, it is shown replacing the economy, by paying people in credits, which then also become an equivalent to a reputation or rating, controlling elements of society, in a similar manner to Daemon or Nosedive. Black Mirror feels like an obvious comparison, though here there aren't multiple different universes, but one, with the one big change. In later episodes, other elements of the program consider things like inequity - improving the lives (mostly via monetary stimulus) of people who are disfigured (whether this was external or self-imposed), and romance - identifying people who might be best shacked up together.

But the episodes are also tied together another way, by the simulation hypothesis. Once the program gets going (after the early episodes introduce how it started to change society), there are ongoing questions about how it works. Is an AI truly capable of achieving all of the things it does, or is there some human element behind it, or might something more complex be going on. That storyline runs throughout, with more and more stories hinting at the premise that the universe in which the show is generally set might actually be a simulation. That, in my mind, becomes fairly explicit towards the more recent episodes, reaching what is potentially a natural endpoint with the newest.

In this, two people head out across the land to find "the terminal", a point which will allow them to ask the Sysadmin why it's doing what it's doing and maybe escape the simulation. My colleague in reviewing, ArthurDrakoni drew out the parallels to The Pilgrim's Progress, so instead I'll focus on what I think are analogues to climate change. The simulation is slowly running down, as people posit that there are fewer and fewer "cycles" (ie computer processing cycles) available to keep the simulation going. When they've run out, the simulation will just come to an end.

Many things use up these cycles, and a frantic hunt for efficiencies has resulted in people going vegan, giving up pets (and children), and trying to live as simply as possible. Given that "plastic" is a curse word, I think the point is obvious. Though perhaps overly optimistic, to suggest that people will take such drastic measures. But it's not been enough, as the journey is filled with "glitches". Points in which the world just doesn't work like it should: auditory errors make sound work strangely; lack of luminosity means nothing is visible; and no-clip failures mean you can end up stuck in a wall.

Which gives us the conflict of our journey, as well as a number of interpersonal problems to deal with. It's an exciting adventure discovering what happened to the world and their companion, and leaves me curious as to whether the future episodes will go "backwards" to earlier parts of the timeline, or instead jump to alternate universes. Either way, I'm sure it'll keep asking ethical questions related to technology and what humanity might do with it.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Drama Cast Dramatised Science fiction Anthology