WestWorld Is How Computer Science Should Be Taught

While WestWorld is dealing with the ethical and philosophical questions in the era of singularity, it produces real life examples of those concepts.
WestWorld Is How Computer Science Should Be Taught

Even the creators of the HBO show WestWorld admit that it is not for everyone. It is deep, multi-layered, overly complicated at places, philosophical overtones edging towards pretension and many other things. If nothing, it will give an ego boost to your sense of taste and intellect, like Inception did for many of us. But in a country where the IT industry is the goal for the majority of students (or their parents), syllabus makers should take notes from this show on how to make computing concepts come to life.

WestWorld is set in a futuristic world where technology has evolved enough to make Elon Musk rest. The show is about a theme park named WestWorld which is modeled after the urban myths of the wild west where gunslinging cowboys wear old timey clothes and hats, ride horses, drink like pirates, hunt outlaws for bounty and find themselves in a brothel. The main attraction of this park is the host, the robots who are human-like in every aspect and live their part everyday. The guests of the park can kill, torture, abuse the hosts in anyway possible. Let all their animal instincts out and get some cathartic experience out of it. But some hosts are becoming sentient now which is a potential threat to everyone. All this information is laid out in the first few episodes and I'll stop the spoilers at that. Anymore would ruin the experience and is not really relevant to this article.

The show is a thriller with multiple storylines, and timelines featuring amazing characters and actors alike. But for me, the most important thing is the thread the creators kneed between humanity and computing. Coding is the closest we have to superpowers. And many of us who learnt to do it, work for the companies which are gearing up towards becoming faceless super-villains. As the show goes on, it keeps revealing the idea behind this theme park and the insidious ways the visitors are treated. While it is hard for the general public to comprehend the value of their personal data, WestWorld shows what making you an object of study can result in. I might be painting a bleaker picture here but if you closely observe, it is evident that co-creator Jonathan Nolan has moved away from his opinions on humanity in his previous TV show, "Person of Interest".

In most engineering colleges, computer science is turned into a complicated, knowledge based, theory oriented bore. Let alone thinking of real life cases, it becomes an exercise of memorizing the theoretical solutions already available in textbooks. Many of us realize that it is much more exciting and has a lot to do about problem solving, only after we start working. WestWorld not only takes computing to the real world, it personifies it. I'm not talking about the fancy control panels or voice commands, but the way a database is personified as a library with stacks of books and testing is visualized by a recursively burning room. In a recent episode, the concept of entropy was demonstrated as a person creating chaos in a society. If my lecturers had taken that route, I would not have skipped their classes consistently.

Several concepts like object orientation, inheritance, and polymorphism were nightmares to me when I had to prepare for a test. While WestWorld is dealing with the ethical and philosophical questions in the era of singularity, it produces real life examples of those concepts. A tribe of bots, some having similar features, and when needed, the same host being cloned into multiple forms all represent these concepts. Many computing concepts are modeled after human behaviors and relationships. But it is easier to think of robots with names as objects than adding to the existing human objectification issues. Which is why I see WestWorld's universe as full of complex concepts in a real personified manner.

Honestly, I might be overzealous and projecting my ideas on this show's storyline. But my point is to notice the nuanced and creative way a complex idea is presented and my frustration around the lack of those efforts in our education system. Even if you think I'm just bullshitting and self-aggrandizing, my point on WestWorld being an amazing show still stands. Give it a shot, you might love it.

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