08th Mar2018

‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams 1×08: Autofac’ Review

by Paul Metcalf


One of the things that makes Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams stand out as a show is that it raises questions about today’s society. Autofac looks at our reliance on the production line, churning out everything the consumer ever needs. Most importantly it is also about the fears we have of the automation of the consumerism process.

In a world where society and the world has collapsed changing lives forever, many goods once loved are now useless. With a massive automated factory known as Autofac still churning out goods for its consumers though, a group of survivors look to stop the flow. This puts then in direct conflict with Autofac’s main programming though, to keep the flow of consumer goods flowing. When an automated system keeps the product line flowing, who tells it to stop? That is one of the questions raised in Autofac. The answer of course is that there has to be a human influence on the system to do that. If the AI for Autofac decides to protect its main programming, then we see the problem with the process.

With the idea of Autofac in place, then we have the humans. The main character in Autofac is Emily (Juno Temple) who as part of a small human company are working to switch off Autofac, or at least stop it from delivering them goods. In trying to do this they contact support for the system, which brings Alice (Janelle Monáe) to their settlement to fix the problem they have raised with the process.

Alice is the key to getting inside Autofac, which is a place that provides many answers for Alice, and for the audience. Not only do we see the monster that the system has become, but also what place Alice and the human settlers have in the process. It would spoil the episode to reveal exactly what is going on, but the reveal is impressively done, and thankfully not hinted at too much. It is more on second viewing that you’ll see the clues that were placed.

What is impressive about Autofac is that it takes a well-worn path of humans vs. machinery in a post-apocalyptic world and actually makes it feel fresh. Yes, there are elements of The Terminator in this episode, as well as a few other science fiction films, but it doesn’t take the easy path of being just another clone. It subverts the story that we are somewhat used to, and turns it on its head to not only freshen things up, but also raise questions of our over reliance on consumer products, and what our part in the consumerism process really is.

Autofac is one of my favourite episodes of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams because it examines the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence and raises questions to actually think about. While it may be a subject we’ve seen many times before, this episode manages to feel fresh, and to take a new view on the subject, even if it is a story we’ve seen many times before.

***** 5/5

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams airs in the UK on Channel 4, 10pm on Mondays.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek
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