The following contains spoilers for Westworld season 3.
The first teaser HBO released for Westworld season 3 featured none of the actors, settings, or storylines from the series. Instead it was an advertisement for a company known as “Incite,” with all the hallmark caginess and corporate buzzword-speech of your everyday big tech or pharmaceutical spot.
“The world is complex, complicated, messy. But life doesn’t have to be. The future is powered by you. And we know you,” says Incite CEO Liam Dempsey (Jefferson Mays) over images of a spinning globe and robot technology handling medicine.
Dempsey goes on to claim that his company isn’t just Silicon Valley vaporware. They have an algorithm that really does something. It can solve problems as big as climate change or as intimate as what career an individual should have.
Those are big claims and the commercial is an intriguing spot to be sure. But what does it mean in the reality of the show? Based on some other supplemental material and the events of episode 1, Incite and the supercomputer they’ve created, Rehoboam, appear to be central to both the plot and themes of Westworld season 3.
Let’s look at Incite for starters. In addition to that creepy teaser, Incite obviously has a real world website as well. Its main splash page reads “If Data is Destiny, Then You Chart the Path.” The Incite site is full of useful information about Westworld’s universe, including an explainer about the Privacy Act of 2039. But it’s also filled with exhaustive corporate speak like “Tired of befriending strangers?”, “Sick of search bar suggestions?”, and “Networking not getting you anywhere?” While those concepts may be vague, they still suggest a company with enormous scope and influence.
HBO also brought Incite into the real world at this year’s CES. Deadline describes a creepy experience of Incite “employees” knowing a hell of a lot about the journalists gathered at an Incite-branded event:
“She knew a lot about us, but it seemed like she knew more about some than others. For me, she knew I worked at Deadline and co-hosted a podcast — it’s all information you can find with a simple Google search. However, she knew an extraordinary amount of details about the others at my table. She dove deep into the lives of the YouTubers and the Instagram couple, citing personal bullet points including specific work they have done on their social media channels, followers and even details about their children and family. It was creepy. “
HBO has clearly gone all out in making Incite feel like a real, lived-in beast. But that’s just all we can glean from the supplemental material. We first get a sense of Incite and Rehoboam’s existence in Westworld season 3 proper through Aaron Paul’s character, Caleb.
“They say it’s a meritocracy. The system picks the right people for the right jobs,” Caleb tells his old friend Francis on the phone. It’s clear that the system Caleb is referring to indeed belongs to the Incite. Incite seemingly controls the careers of everyone in this nameless city and perhaps this entire society.
Then thanks to Dolores’s detective work, we get even more information about Incite and their Rehoboam machine. Dolores is undercover and dating the new CEO of Incite, Liam Dempsey Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.). After being honored with another reward “for being the son of the guy who saved the world through algorithms,” Liam lets Dolores in on the secrets of Incite.
“If you could chart a course for every single person you would make the world a better place,” Liam says.
“A path for everyone,” Dolores responds, echoing Incite’s marketing material.
This is sure to be one of the big concepts that Westworld season 3 intends to explore. In fact, determinism (or the concept that we are not fully in control of our destinies), is something that the show examined before. Recall Delos Corporation’s findings in Westworld season 2 when they were trying to recreate human consciousness.
After so many of their attempts failed, Delos came to realize that it wasn’t that human consciousness is too complex for their algorithms to mimic…it was that human consciousness is too simple. Delos had to dumb down their math to better create a future human/host hybrid. The human beings of the world are not that dissimilar from the hosts we created. We all have certain loops to walk in life and cornerstone memories to build around.
If Delos could come to that conclusion on an island somewhere, then it stands to reason that another company on the mainland can do the same. All it takes to figure out everything that will ever happen is apparently just a very powerful computer. That’s a concept that Alex Garland’s Devs is currently exploring over on FX and Hulu and it’s a concept that Westworld appears to be exploring here.
The tool that Incite uses to chart the path of the world is the massive, orbital supercomputer called Rehoboam. Rehoboam is likely named after a biblical figure who was the son of the wise king Solomon and grandson of David. Rehoboam was unfit for the task of ruling and his harsh treatment of the northern tribes of Israel led to them rebelling. Soon Solomon’s son was left with only the Kingdom of Judah, which was much smaller than the United Monarchy of Israel he had inherited. What this means for the computer that bears Rehoboam’s name remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that this is a very large, very efficient, and very powerful computer that’s strong enough to know the paths that everyone in the world would be happiest or most effective in taking.
In fact, the interstitials that periodically introduce scenes in season 3, episode 1 “Parce Domine” are likely to come directly form Rehoboam’s internal processors. Rehoboam seems to be reporting things like “Divergences,” “Anomalies,” and “Elevated Scrutiny” to itself to stay on top of what’s going on with the human race. This is truly a omniscient machine indeed.
We get a better sense of just how omniscient in season 3 episode 3, when Dolores shares the data that Rehoboam has collected on Caleb. When Dolores asks Martin Connels (Tommy Flanagan) to check in on the man who helped save her life, Connels says that he is being pursued by some assassins and that Incite has lowered his life expectancy considerably. Rehoboam’s quantum computing is so powerful and so quick that it is aware of events happening in real time and can adjust its probabilities based on them.
After Dolores rescues Caleb, she fully lets him behind the curtain of Rehoboam’s capabilities. Rehoboam has access to information about the darkest moment in Caleb’s life, when his mom suffered her first schizophrenic episode and abandoned him at a diner. Later Dolores brings Caleb out to a pier where she reveals that Rehoboam is confident that he will kill himself there in 10-12 years. The data speaks for itself. He is an unmarried ex-veteran likely with PTSD who frequents this spot. In all likelihood he will die by his own hand eventually.
Caleb is understandably horrified by this invasion of privacy. Dolores, however, is more enraged by the prospect of Rehoboam creating self-fulfilling prophecies.
“It’s not about who you are, Caleb. It’s about who they’ll let you become,” she says.
When Dolores first arrived in the real world, it was understandable that her mission would be that of vengeance against the human race for all the things we’ve put her through. Instead, however, she seems to have come to empathize with humanity because a computer has us all on a track of loops, just like she was forced to trod herself in the artifice of Westworld. At the very least, Dolores hates Rehoboam more than she hates us. And she makes clear to Caleb her intentions in the real world. She’s here to pull the plug on Incite’s infernal machine.
With Incite and Rehoboam, Westworld is combining two science fiction concepts into one dystopian vision. The first is the aforementioned determinism, or the concept that we are not in control of our own destinies and everything that happens was preordained via the mathematics of day-to-day life. The other is less of a sci-fi trope and more of what we’re living through now in the age of big data where all of our information is tracked and analyzed. What if computing catches up to the point where “tracking” switches to “determining?” Westworld showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy confirmed their vision for the season in a post episode 1 HBO feature.
“We live in a world now where between social media, location tracking, phone calls, emails, there is a digital trail for each of us,” Joy says.
“What if 30 more years elapse of exactly the trajectory we’re on now? What does that world look like?” Nolan adds.
While the robotic host technology in Westworld’s first two seasons seemed impossibly complex and futuristic, Rehoboam is now more disturbingly plausible. Incite no longer has control of Rehoboam, with its other initial creator, Serac (Vincent Cassel), holding the metaphorical keys to the machine. The rest of this season will undoubtedly explore what it means for humanity to have an author and how one morally gray robot can help us break free of the deterministic loops big data has set out for us.