How 'Westworld' Season 2's Big Twist Can Be Explained With fMRI Technology

Are we all just lines of code?

What if you could visit a Wild West-themed resort filled with robots that look, act, feel, and die just like humans to live out your wildest fantasies? Sounds good? Ok, but what if the company that runs the park is also scanning your brain to create a perfect AI replica of your own subconscious? Less good, right?

Welcome to Westworld (sorry for the spoilers but, come on, it’s been six months). Season 2 ended with yet another huge twist, sending us to a secret lab where human consciousness is reduced to lines of code — 10,247 lines of code, to be exact. But could that actually happen? Is Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) right when he explains that “consciousness does not exist” in the video above?

It turns out real life science isn’t that far behind what we saw in Westworld, though that doesn’t mean lines of code can replace the human brain anytime soon.

In Season 2, we learned that the cowboy hats given out to Westworld’s visitors were actually high-tech brain scanner, and as Inverse’s Sarah Sloat reported, that’s not as unrealistic as it might sound:

In real life, the closest thing we have to a Delos cognition-scanning cowboy hat is a fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, machine. This is used to map and measure brain activity in a way that’s noninvasive and safe. Researchers have used in a smorgasbord of ways — from determining what parts of the brain activate when someone watches porn to determining what neural connections are made when someone is being creative … In turn, scientists believe that fMRI can be used to better understand human cognition — the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought.

William, Westworld
William as a White Hat in Season 1.

It might be possible to record human brain activity, but could that data be translated into computer code that accurately replicates human consciousness? According to one expert, the answer is still no.

Anil Seth, Ph.D., the co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and professor at the University of Sussex believes that human consciousness is a complex balancing act between internal information and external influences.

“What it means to be me cannot be reduced to — or uploaded to — a software program running on a robot, however smart or sophisticated,” Seth said at a TED Talk in 2017.

So while the technology needed to scan and store your brain activity might be quickly catching up with science fiction, the science needed to turn that data back into actual consciousness is still just a fantasy.

This December, Inverse is counting down the 20 best science moments in science fiction this year. This has been #9.

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