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Fox's New A.I. Series Next Will Make You Want to Throw Your iPhone off a Cliff

John Slattery tries to take down rogue artificial intelligence in the new Fox drama

Lindsay MacDonald

Most people would admit that they need at least two pieces of modern technology glued to their sides every day, but that might change after watching Fox's new artificial intelligence series, Next, which premieres Tuesday at 9/8c.

Next, starring Mad Men's John Slattery, is based on the nightmare scenario of an A.I. that becomes super-intelligent and thus super-dangerous. Slattery plays Paul LeBlanc, an extremely intelligent former Silicon Valley CEO who joins forces with FBI Agent Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) and her team to fight back against a powerful artificial intelligence system Paul created. 

It's a dangerous fight. In an attempt to hide the fact that it has basically gone rogue, the A.I. -- called neXt -- starts offing anyone and everyone who figures out what it has become capable of, using the show's version of Amazon's Alexa, computerized cars, and even medical equipment to do them in. Homeland Cybersecurity must then take on the terrifying task of leading a manhunt for the A.I. in an effort to stop this computer from harming more people.

Creator and executive producer Manny Coto told press at Fox's Television Critics Association winter press tour back in January that a lot of the inspiration for the first season of Next came from his own research into what would happen if an existing piece of A.I. programming became super-intelligent.

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"One of the things that I've read is that an A.I., where it accidentally becomes super-intelligent, one of the first things it would want to do is not allow anyone to find out that it has become so super-intelligent," Coto said. "Because it would want to gain its foothold wherever it's going before we have a chance to come back, which I found really interesting, it would basically play dumb."

"If a group of people found out about it, it would not strike in large, huge assault," Coto explained of the A.I. "It would kind of go after them in the smallest way possible so as not to be detected, which inherently led to a story and a season, whereby this A.I., which knows everything about them, our characters, is actually attacking them through their personal lives and slowly trying to destroy their lives and their careers so that they can in turn not attack it."

Not all of these modes of attack are as obvious as a smart car. There are other, more seemingly innocuous pieces of technology that have to the capacity to become threats the smarter this computer becomes. The result is a thriller that makes it hard to trust anything.

"We live in a world surrounded by these appliances and [technologies] that are all vulnerable and usable by something that is, you know, very very intelligent," Coto said. "Analyzing your blood, if you're a diabetic, that is now a system that actually goes through the internet, so we can alter that. Pacemakers... Thermostats can be hacked, and I read earlier today there's actually -- smart lightbulbs can actually be hacked, and actually be used as a method of listening in."

Still, Coto said neXt is neither good nor evil. It's simply following its program to continuously improve itself. In that quest for improvement, it will identify threats to its goal and remove those threats accordingly. Without a conscience or the programming to know the difference between right and wrong, this computer is just walking the path laid out for it. 

"It's not self-aware, it's not self-conscious, it's not questioning the universe," Coto said. "It is merely following its own program... And so now we have a super-intelligent [A.I.] -- something that's 1000 times smarter than we are -- that is determined to carry out its programming. And, unfortunately, that means if anybody tries to stop it from carrying out its programming, those individuals need to be stopped."

Next premieres Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9/8c. 

John Slattery, Next

John Slattery, Next