Person of Interest begins its fifth and final season tonight with a raw, disturbing look at the techno-dystopia created by two warring AIs who want to control the fate of America. That’s not exactly where you’d have guessed this show would have ended up if you tuned in to the first episode back in 2011. The series started as a vigilante crime-fighter drama, pairing hacker genius Finch (Michael Emerson, from Lost) with ex-CIA ninja Reese (Jim Caviezel, Passion of the Christ) and good NYPD cop Carter (Taraji Henson, before her famous role as Cookie on Empire). The twist was that Finch had created a supercomputer called the Machine, which could analyze surveillance data to predict crime. Though the government had wrested control of the Machine away from Finch, he’d backdoored it to send him the social security numbers of future victims and perpetrators. With help from Reese and Carter, some lives could be saved.
In season 5, which will be a 13-episode swan song for this incredible show, the Machine has been severely disabled by Samaritan. Our heroes are on the run. And Decima has taken over the US using Samaritan’s powers of surveillance and social media propaganda. In some ways, you can think of the Machine as the X-Men’s Professor X and Samaritan as Magneto. The Machine wants to help humanity, but Samaritan wants to rule them. By asking questions about how AI should be programmed, the morality of the surveillance state, and the rise of Internet propaganda, this season of Person of Interest promises to be full-bore science fiction. But it’s always, as ever, grappling with current events. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and a large group of researchers just signed two open letters urging engineers to stop producing AI and autonomous war machines without considering the ethics involved. This season of Person of Interest could be a fictional rider on those letters, pointing out in grisly detail what awaits us if we build AI without a conscience. Speaking to Ars by phone, Nolan said: