Earlier this Summer I had the chance to speak with several cast members from Twitch’s first scripted series, Artificial. The show has won several awards, including a well deserved Emmy for ‘Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media’. If you haven’t seen the show, the first 2 seasons were presented as a Twitch show run by Dr. Matt Lin (Tohoru Masamune), who is teaching his A.I. “daughter” Sophie how to interact with people and various life lessons.
Season 3 began to shoot in the middle of LA’s COVID-19 lockdown and changed the format slightly to be able to shoot each of the characters remotely. In this interview, I spoke with La Trice Harper, who plays Carmen and has transitioned from just hosting the “in-world” podcast to having a larger, direct role in the main show. We discussed everything from what to expect in Season 3, to Star Trek, to the new audience-influenced musical score.
La Trice Harper From Artificial on Twitch
You kind of joined in the main cast after having done the sideshow podcast version – which this whole thing is really fascinating to me because you kind of came in as doing this podcast that was all about the show, almost like a Talking Dead type thing, but for Artificial and set within that world. How was it for you navigating doing this podcast and then kind of coming on to the show as a, not regular character because I think you were in three episodes in season two. But kind of moving the direction of your character to that.
La Trice Harper: Um, honestly, it felt kind of seamless. Really, because doing the podcast was a lot of fun. And like you said, we’re doing a podcast about the show. So, it’s like just bringing Carmen into the mainstream of what’s going on. It’s pretty natural to me. It didn’t feel jarring or strange at all. Natural progression.
That’s good! In season three things have kind of changed up yet again, because with everything going on right now with COVID and everyone doing the whole lockdown thing, you guys are filming remotely. For the podcasts I’d imagine that’s not a huge change. I know you and Justin, were kind of doing that a little bit together, but how has this new format for the show changed how you’re approaching it or what challenges has it given you that you have to just kind of deal with?
La Trice Harper: I would say the biggest challenge is missing everyone. No, seriously. The biggest challenge would be dealing with all of the technology now all at the same time.
Yeah, you guys have to do the camera and the audio and all that kind of stuff yourself, right?
La Trice Harper :Yeah. Yeah, yeah, it’s making sure that camera is set where it needs to be, which of course, Alan is amazing. He helps out. I don’t know what I was doing without him because he’s so necessary. So, like, he sets up the camera for me. Makes sure my lighting is good and everything looks great, all in focus and the right place, and that the mics are going good. Like, the team is just so supportive and so helpful. And again, I like to call it the Artificial Family because it feels like a family because everybody is there for everybody. So, you know, dealing with all the new technology and making it all work at the same time – as well as you know, doing your character in the scenes and stuff. Although it was challenging, the group that I’m with made it so much easier, like, not a problem, you know.
I’ve been told that you have a background in wrestling and used to work at Disney for a bit – but like how nerdy are you? How much of the tech aspect of the show were you familiar with prior to coming on and having to talk about artificial intelligence?
La Trice Harper: As far as like AI, artificial intelligence, I, Carmen know a bit about it, but I didn’t know that much. So, it’s been literally a learning experience from coming in on Season Two and just starting to really learn about AI and its capabilities and what it can do and what it can’t do, it has been such a learning curve. So yeah, growth.
Out of everything that you’ve learned about artificial intelligence since joining the cast, I have this question that is kind of directed at both you and your character, Carmen. How do both of you feel about artificial intelligence in general? Do you think it’s something that is primarily good and will benefit humanity? Or are you more scared of having like, a Terminator-like robot at some point?
La Trice Harper: Well, earlier you asked me how much of a nerd I am. Here’s how much of a nerd I am. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. So, me personally, I enjoy artificial intelligence. I know like it’s very necessary in our lives. And I’m not necessarily afraid of it. I do have concerns about where it can go in the future. And you know, it could get pretty scary thinking about what it does now, even just listening to you and making decisions and ordering things for you online without even knowing, scary stuff.
But I think that myself and Carmen sort of parallel in that there is a bit of skepticism. Carmen is just like, you know, it’s pretty dangerous. You can’t control it, too. Certainly, you can control it to a certain extent. But then what happens when you lose that control? I think that myself and Carmen share that sort of view. Like I said, it’s like, what’s going to happen when we need AI more than it needs us? And AI is running itself? That’s scary.
Right, right. Yeah, it’s gonna be The Matrix.
La Trice Harper: Right, exactly.
I’m actually really glad that you brought up Star Trek. I’m also a huge Star Trek fan. I was actually talking about it before hopping on this call. I was talking with one of my colleagues here at The Illuminerdi, we’re starting up like a retro watch along show, we’re going to start with Star Trek Enterprise and go through the shows in chronological order instead of premiere order. So that’s going to be kind of interesting, it should be a lot of fun.
One of the things I’ve been asking other from the show about is – I feel like Sophie has a lot in common with Data. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was an episode where Data. . . he wasn’t really put on trial, but they were trying to decide whether he was property or whether he was his own individual person with all the rights thereof, kind of like a Bicentennial Man type thing. So, do you see a future where we have these artificial intelligences, like Sophie coexisting with people? Or do you think they’re going to be more relegated to just be being our servants?
La Trice Harper: Man. Hard question. You know, the episode you’re talking about, Measure of a Man, that was so beautifully done. Just because there was so many hard questions. The average person, in my opinion, like I’m not speaking for everybody, just my opinion. The average person thinks about, oh, should they have rights? Are they sentient? Are they thinking for themselves and stuff? And then when you start really breaking it down and looking at it, it gets pretty scary because it’s like, where do the rights start? And where do rights end and where does the, you know, where’s the line drawn? And like you said, Sophie and Data, definitely run parallel to that. And as far as how I see what the future could be with that, I feel like it’s possible. You know, we have AI that’s already sort of thinking for itself. So, who’s to say, you know, that we can’t put that into a humanoid type body, an AI body and, you know, it’d be another Data or Sophia. You know, I don’t see that out of the realm of possibility. I just hope that when it happens, it goes well.
I completely agree, I can completely see how it can go completely sideways too. But also along the same lines, it’s also been really interesting to me because over these past few years now, with the new show Picard there is the whole storyline about the synthetics and what their rights were and what is life, what is existence. There’s been shows like The Good Place which was all about like what does it mean to be a good person? Westworld this past season, Devs on FX and Hulu, all these shows have kind of touched upon, what is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be a person? How do you quantify what being alive actually is?
Then Artificial came along and it’s kind of covering that that same territory. It’s interesting to me that there’s been so many shows in the past few years that are kind of touching upon that. Do you think that is a sign of the times that we’re living in or do you think that might be more along the lines of just like a coincidence, since AI is popular technology now, so people are just kind of making things about that, kind of like how back in the 90s you had Dante’s peak and Volcano or Deep Impact and Armageddon, or any kind of similar movies that just happened to come out at the same time.
La Trice Harper: Right, I think it’s a little bit of both. You know, maybe because film and TV kind of reflects what’s going on in the world. So, I think it’s probably a taste of both. It’s exciting to talk about. It’s exciting to see. Sci-Fi is my favorite. So, you know, it’s really cool to watch these things happening, but at the same time, technology is advancing so fast now. That it is a sign of the times at the same time, so both.
Technology really is crazy. I recently went through and re watched Stargate SG1, which started in 1995 and ended in 2005. So when the series started, everyone was using CRT monitors, like these big huge bulky screens, but by the end of the series, everyone had like these huge flat screens with like holographic displays and it was very bizarre watching that technological progress happen over the course of a TV show.
La Trice Harper: Exactly, like you were watching the progression of the technology that was happening in the world happening in the show
And now I feel like with Artificial it’s almost the same thing but with how creative products are happening because like now with Twitch and how it’s being interactive and YouTube and all these like live streaming platforms that are coming out. It’s really changing how people are producing narratives. I told Bernie earlier that I’m really angry with him because he was the first one to do this kind of a show. Like, this is something I would have loved to have made. It’s such an innovative concept to me, where you guys are doing – like it’s not improv, but you guys are taking everything that the audience is talking about in the chat while watching you and then incorporating pieces of that into the show itself. How is that for you as a performer on the show, having these ideas in your head that you may have come in with before you guys started shooting and then maybe going in completely different direction because the audience picks something else.
La Trice Harper: I mean, it’s awesome, because it keeps you on your toes. And I love that the audience is involved, I love that they get to make choices and actually help drive the story. So, I think it’s a beautiful thing. And I agree with you. It’s like Bernie is so brilliant to come out with this kind of a show, and perfect timing for it with all that’s technologically going on. But yeah, I love the fact that the audience has such a heavy hand with what’s going on, because it makes them feel involved. It makes them a part of the Artificial family. And it’s cool. I mean end of the day, it’s really just cool to be able to, you know, as an audience member weigh in and say, “Well, I want this” and then, you know, interact with other audience members who try to sway their vote to tell them “hey, you see this because of this” and having this dynamic conversation going on while the show is happening. It’s just great.
I’m also really annoyed at myself because I just found out about the show maybe a week and a half, two weeks ago. I watched the first episode and “I was like alright, that’s cool”. Watched the second episode and I’m like “okay, now I need to watch the third, now the fourth, now the fifth, I ended up basically watching the entire first two seasons in two and a half days maybe. And everything just kind of like sucked me into it and now with the world building episodes that Bernie’s doing like outside of the regular narrative stuff. It feels like this it’s becoming more than a show, this is its own entity, like I’ve never seen anything done this way before. It’s really cool.
I’m really excited to see where it goes and how he innovates in the future, like with how the music now is changing depending on the mood of people who are talking in the chat.
A philosophical question for you: in the finale for season two, would you have deactivated Sophie or would you let her continue to exist and just have to deal with the consequences of her actions?
La Trice Harper: My first reaction would be to say that I would be deactivate her because she’s at the point that even though the audience was making decisions and she was kind of following their advice, she was still acting alone in deactivating the sister and then, you know, ultimately in killing someone. So, my first reaction would be to deactivate her, but I would also want to consider the possibility of reprogramming.
You know, is there a way to instead of just shutting her down? Well, you’d have to shut her down and reprogram her, but maybe there’s a way to save her and that you can just change the you know, programming. And maybe influence her decisions in the future to where, you know, taking the lives of any sort, whether it’s a program or a person is just not possible. I would want to look into that avenue.
I mean, that kind of brings up something that I was talking with Toro and Bernie about. Isaac Asimov has the “three laws of robotics”, which – they don’t completely eliminate a robot’s capacity to have some sort of freewill, but they do limit their ability to make decisions. Do you think that Matt should have instilled something like that into Sophie? Or do you feel that by doing so he would have completely eliminated her ability to have free will and to make her own decisions because she would have been limited by what she can and can’t do?
La Trice Harper: I feel like because Sophie was his child, he should have done something to – and this is Carmen and myself talking – done something to limit what she’s capable of doing. I feel like it’s just like with a toddler. You have a toddler in your home, you don’t have, you know, cleaners and substances within their reach, you know what I mean? You know, all your plugins are covered, like you limit the possibilities of what they’re able to do for their own protection. So, I feel like yes, that’s something that she should have instilled in her from the beginning.
And then maybe over time, as she began to grow her personality and as she began to just be shaped, you know, by the audience and by her experiences, maybe that’s something that could have been opened up, maybe a program here could have been eliminated, because now she knows that that’s not something that she should be doing or you know what I mean, just as she evolved, maybe programs could have been added and subtracted to give her more free will, but I feel like she should have had some sort of failsafe at the beginning for sure.
I haven’t started season three yet, so I’m not I’m not completely caught up on everything that’s going on, so without spoiling anything, what is something that you can talk about this season that won’t necessarily ruin it for people that aren’t caught up or maybe are just starting to get into the show?
La Trice Harper: I would say the audience interaction and I know we’ve kind of touched on it a little bit but I’d like to touch on the score because the audience interaction has grown immensely and now not only are they weighing in on the show, they’re also choosing the mood of the show and they’re choosing how a particular scene may sound or feel based on what they typed into the chat. And that’s huge. That is huge. The fact that they can actually help drive the scene through music is amazing.
Yeah, I think music is an aspect that a lot of people don’t necessarily take for granted, but the general audience, when they’re watching a movie, they don’t realize just how much the music affects them.
La Trice Harper: Yeah, they hear it, but they don’t *hear* it.
Right? Yeah, it’s funny, I was having a conversation with someone on Twitter about Airplane. Airplane, lifted entire pieces of dialogue, names, scenes, shots – they were all lifted from an early 1950s movie called Zero Hour that the Zucker Brothers bought the rights to, just so that they could do a parody of the film and lift all these things.
In Zero Hour, it was serious. It was just a regular disaster movie, like Airport or Earthquake or any of that kind of stuff, but Airplane, obviously was a huge comedy. And like just looking at how the music in the background and the delivery of lines completely changes how everything is perceived is just amazing. And for this it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how that music kind of plays into that.
La Trice Harper: Oh, it’s gonna be so exciting. So exciting.
Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it. And again, I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything goes in season three.