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Wherein I spoil some of Person of Interest, in the hopes that you might watch it

What if I told you that a major television network produced a television show which followed the humans pawns in a war of two surveillance based, near omniscient artificial intelligences? If you're a hard corps scifi nut, that sentence probably has your drooling. The only problem is, that if that's the only part of PoI that tickles your fancy, it takes awhile to get there, and there aren't a lot of episodes that you can easily skip.

I could probably tell you to just start watching at the beginning of season 4, and you might get it, but I think you'd need a Bryce to watch it with you and explain certain backstories. I recently started re-watching it with the intention of identifying exactly when it shifts, and maybe coming up with a list of must watch, primer episodes, but I failed. You see, Person of Interest shifts so gradually from being a crime a week procedural to dealing with the fallout of the AI singularity, that even knowing it was coming, I didn't really notice it happen.

So, here's some things I can tell you about the show. It starts with a secretive computer genius recruiting a disavowed CIA operative, to help him prevent murders. The catch, and the basic formula for at least the first season, is that they just get a social security number of someone that's involved in the murder. Victim or murderer? Let's find out!

To elaborate, our computer genius designed an artificial intelligence that you could monitor all of the US government's information sources, crunch the numbers, and identify terrorist plots before they happened. In order to try and protect the privacy of everyone else the system is watching, it was designed as a black box, that would only spit out a single identity to begin investigating. It had to be taught the difference between a single murder, and a terrorist event, so it just generates numbers into two channels: Relevant, which the US government takes care of, and the Irrelevant, which our genius decides he has a moral obligation to still try and save. It's pretty contrived, but it makes a weird sort of sense. Along the way, our genius and one man army recruit a pair of homicide detectives, albeit through very different processes.

The show progresses with that formula for awhile, and doesn't give you any hints of changing it up, until they get the number of a CIA analyst, who started asking questions about one of his reports being altered. Apparently you can't order a drone strike just because an AI that you can't acknowledge exists gave you a number, so they've been manufacturing intel to satisfy an audit, and if someone starts getting nosy, then they disappear them.

Hereafter this first AI will be referred to as "The Machine" as it is called in the show.

It's about this time that we get introduced to two new, strong female characters, which I found very refreshing. Not to say that the show treats Detective Carter, the only regular female character until now, as a damsel in distress, but it is a long tie before she's fully Team Machine, let alone fully in the know of the existence of the Machine. Truly, her and Detective Fusco are the two most relatable characters we have. John Reese (ex spook) is an amazingly repressed robot, any emotions he might have are generally just vague hints, and Harold Finch (computer genius) is just too smart, rich, and asocial to identify with. Our new female characters are Sameen Shaw, who used to work for the government on the relevant numbers until her partner started asking questions, and they tried to eliminate her, and Root, another genius hacker who starts off organizing various crimes for hire, before intuiting the existence of the machine.

I hadn't really realized before now, but both of these characters are kind of copies of the two existing character, you have an emotionless spy/assassin, and computer genius that has difficulty interacting with normal people. Now I'm wondering if I'm just being sexist for finding them more relatable/intersting? Oh well, too late to stop now, tally-ho!

Shaw is interesting because she's self-diagnosed with a personality disorder that makes it difficult for her to form emotional attachments. Her gradual recruitment are some of my favorite episodes, at one point she says she only joined "for the dog". I haven't mentioned him yet, but they even got an animal mascot, a trained attack dog named Bear, he's pretty great, but I don't have much to say about him, other than I feel he has more personality than either Finch or Reese.

Root on the other hand is REALLY interesting. As I said before, she intuited that there was an artificial intelligence, based off of Reese and Finch intercepting her on a couple of jobs. Upon realizing that, she has something of a religious awakening, decides that the Machine is God, and goes on a hunt/rampage to try and free the Machine.

Around this time, the government decides that they should really have access to get under the Machine's hood and fiddle with the settings. From there it's a race between the government and Root to get access, with Team Machine mostly trying to thwart both parties. In the end, the Machine ends up freeing itself. Before, it was housed in a known location by the government, but it distributed itself, and took control of it's own development. It then decides to keep giving numbers the government, Team Machine, and then it picks Root to be it's avatar, although I honestly like the in narrative designation of "analog interface". From her on, Root isn't so interested in saving people as making sure that the Machine can keep going. She starts recruiting all kinds of different people with skills that fit into it's master plan.

Because, we're about to introduce the Machine's competition! Someone leaks that there might be a massive invasion of privacy perpetrated by the government, and they eventually are forced to shut down their team that works with the Machine. Enter a new company, which promises to provide a similar service, but with more transparency, no more cryptic numbers that could be targets or perpetrators. Also, instead of selling them their AI, they're going to maintain it themselves, and that'll let the government have plausible deniability if anyone looks too closely. This new AI is called Samaritan. Except it's more of an overlord. It wasn't taught to care for people like the Machine was, instead it's all about it's own self-preservation. The head of the company that made it is a bit like Root, he's decided that humanity had it's chance, and they haven't done much with it, so when Samaritan gets turned on, it asks him: "what are your orders?" "Oh, it's actually very much the other way around, what are your orders for me?".

Season 4 kicks of and Samaritan goes on a tear, eliminating anyone that's even considering building another AI, because it doesn't want competition. It's not too picky on how these companies get taken out, hostile takeovers, scandals, bankruptcy, murder, it even dispatches someone to kill a reporter that's realized that the AI industry is quietly being eliminated. Of course, it knows that Machine exists, and it's trying to get it out of the picture to, thankfully, the Machine had time to plan for it, but it does have more limitations than Samaritan does, so it has to play carefully, and figure out how it can save everyone.


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