***THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS – READ WITH CAUTION***
Person of Interest is rapidly coming to its end, as CBS tossed out the majority of the season within the span of a couple of weeks. From here on out, however, there will be one episode a week until the last three episodes are exhausted.
In this last episode arc, the Person of Interest team finds themselves facing Samaritan’s ever growing power, and have to utilize the Machine and their own skills to try and defeat it. In the latest episode, Harold Finch finally decided he’d had enough of playing by the rules and left the team temporarily hanging to go on his crusade against Samaritan.
Interestingly enough, the emphasis of the characters has been on utilizing the Machine to defeat Samaritan. Root insisted that Harold leave the system open for them to use her. She went so far as to hard code in a way for the Machine to defend itself against attacks and act instead of always reacting. The assumption on their end appears to be that Samaritan can only be defeated by another artificial intelligence. It will take the Machine to destroy Samaritan.
While I believe this idea has merit, I don’t believe that is going to be the final conclusion. What I propose is that Team Machine will find that Samaritan’s fatal flaw will not be discovered through simulations or by a computer program, but within themselves. At the end of the day it will be people who win, not machines.
1. Samaritan’s assumptions about humanity’s choices drive its actions.
Samaritan has been shown time and time again to derive its power and influence from its assumptions about people. When Shaw was taken on her “field trips,” Samaritan’s agents attempted to show her a world where Samaritan’s perfect predictions would protect humanity. The intelligence believes it understands humans and has broken all of humanity down to a science that can predict behaviors and results, and it believes those assumptions and predictions to be irrefutable fact.
The problem, however, is that humanity is ultimately unpredictable. This is something that Samaritan will never be able to understand, and was directly demonstrated in Shaw’s journey. She was put through thousands of simulations, and at the end of the day all of Samaritan’s predictions fell short. It could not, with complete certainty, figure out the process of events that would get it what it wanted. Instead, human nature won out. Human unpredictability took it to the cleaners. Shaw not only killed herself out of love in every single scenario, regardless of what they did, but she eventually beat the odds and managed to escape Samaritan’s “perfect” operation.
Samaritan’s assumptions about people’s choices is the first part of its fatal flaw.
2. Samaritan assumes that ultimate power and control will always win.
Samaritan rules through persuasion, but also through controlling people. Time and time again it has used fears, blackmail, and other nefarious things to force people to do its will. While it does have some willing partners, the majority are held onto through threats. The best example of this is Jeff Blackwell, who I believe is going to be a pivotal character who will perfectly demonstrate this point, and the earlier point: that people are ultimately unpredictable, and Samaritan can never keep complete control.
Now, this point hasn’t been proven yet, but I believe the episodes leading up to the last three have set Blackwell up for a redemption arc. He is currently held hostage with the threat that they will link him to crimes that will return him to prison. His fear is what drives him and keeps him close to Samaritan, doing his bidding. However, when he shot Root, when he watched someone take a bullet from his gun, I believe the paradigm shifted.
While Samaritan predicts that as long as it continues to threaten people like Blackwell, they will comply, people may decide to do the illogical thing. I believe Blackwell is going to break the mold and end up turning against Samaritan, against the odds, and against Samaritan’s baseline assumptions.
3. Samaritan assumes that people will continue to follow the same patterns, and in those patterns it will win.
This third point, and what will lead me into the final point I’ll make, is best demonstrated in the character of Harold Finch. In the last episode, after he watched Root get shot and killed protecting him, he did the ultimately unpredictable thing: he chose to no longer follow the rules. For so long Samaritan capitalized on Harold’s predictability. The Machine, the very thing Samaritan views as its only enemy, was reigned in by a man who had a strong moral compass and refused to use the technology for his own purposes. No doubt Samaritan assumed that would continue.
What it was unable to understand, however, was how circumstances change a person. This is where I believe Samaritan’s coding went “wrong,” insomuch that it fails to understand people to the same depth as the Machine. It focuses on absolute control and perfect assumptions with very little room to adjust to unpredictable human actions, while the Machine has demonstrated an understanding of human free will, and will step back when necessary to let people do what they are going to do, free of its control.
4. The battle was never the Machine vs. Samaritan, anyway.
Let’s go back to high school English and review the basic conflicts in literature. Every story has a conflict. Some have multiple. The “Big Five” are as follows:
- Man vs. Man
- Man vs. Nature
- Man vs. Society
- Man vs. Self
- Man vs. Technology
Notice what’s consistent between all of them? They all include man, or character; whatever living thing is the center of the story is the one engaging in the conflict. There is no technology vs. technology, or Machine vs. Samaritan. It has always been about man vs. technology in Person of Interest, and in this case as the show winds down, the primary conflict is going to be man vs. Samaritan. If the show follows the general rules of literature, then the final battle will not be between two artificial intelligences duking it out on a digital battle field. It is going to be people taking a stand to fight for their very humanity.
That is Samaritan’s fatal flaw. It is looking at the Machine as its enemy, and people as something it has absolute control over, when in reality, it is those unpredictable people that will be its downfall. Human relationship, compassion, and empathy are going to be the driving forces in the final conflict. The Machine, I imagine, will stand by and allow it to happen, and in the end I’m going to predict it destroys itself once people have triumphed over Samaritan a la Asimov’s Multivac in All the Troubles of the World.
Samaritan will fail, because time and time again it has underestimated humanity and the unpredictable and, admittedly, stupid things people do in order to protect the things they love.