A picture of God

Deus ex machina.

God from the machine.

I avoid predicting television shows because viewers rarely have enough information to make good ones. I tried earlier this season with Person of Interest and it blew up in my face, so I’m loathe to do it again. But I will.

My prediction for the Person of Interest season finale is that Harold has to choose between The Machine and Samaritan.

I am pushed to the point of prediction by the dialogue surrounding Harold in the past two episodes. Look at some of these lines:

“I can’t help you make a picture of God.” – Grace said to Greer as he seeks information about Harold.

“Perhaps you can.”

This conversation between Greer and Finch was amazing.

“I want to talk about the future. And who more qualified for that conversation than the father of artificial intelligence?” – Greer to Finch while Greer has him captive.

“I’d always imagined it was about the power of creation.” – Greer

“Now your God has disappeared, operating on its own accord. Children can be so disappointing.” – Greer

“I’d be aware of false idols, Mr. Greer.”

“As the father of AI you’re the only one in the world that can destroy it.” – Greer. Noah? The flood? Anyone?

“Having built something significantly smarter than myself how could I possibly anticipate its evolution?” – Finch

“You’re a destroyer, not a creator,” – Harold. OH MY GOD.

“The father became fearful of his son.” – Greer

“I built the machine to save lives. But how could I be certain that it wouldn’t one day determine that all of humanity was irrelevant?” Finch, to Greer.

“It’s pure hubris to think that you could control something so powerful.” Finch, to Greer.

“That is the most important man in the world. The father of a new age.” – Greer about Finch.

Father, creator, evolution. Shows don’t run up to their season finale with dialogue like that by accident. Greer’s search for Harold has now spanned two seasons and it will come to a head in a season finale entitled Deus ex Machina. Making Harold the subject of all this talk – the one who created this intelligence and imparted into it his humanity – leads me to believe he is approaching his moment of truth.

Covering my bases:

In the midst of a double-bogey this morning I was thinking back to the end of last season. The Machine went into “God Mode” and spoke directly to Root and Reese after shutting itself down due to a virus unleashed by Decima. Everyone converged on what they thought was The Machine, only to find out it had dissembled itself and shipped its components off to parts unknown. We still don’t know where it went, and it hasn’t been very much of a subject this season. I doubt that facet of the story will be brought up in this season’s finale, too.

But it got me thinking. God from the machine. The Machine evolved from what Harold first created. It knew enough to hide from Root, then it initiated an “analog interface” to use Root to prepare for what she (The Machine she, not Root she) saw coming, which we now have to believe is Samaritan.

There’s a literary meaning to deus ex machina that symbolizes when a story suddenly comes together in such a preposterous way that it is almost comedic. Writers try to avoid it for that reason, but it doesn’t have to be that literal for the season finale. It can mean The Machine does something no one – Harold, Greer, Collier – expects. Something like take herself apart and ship herself somewhere else.

One last thing bugs me from the most recent episode: Who sent Collier that text? He just found out his brother committed suicide for wrongly being accused of a crime by The Machine and – bam – he gets this text from someone who claims to be able to tell him what happened. My crackpot theory: The Machine sent it to start the process that will end in the season finale. My even more crackpot theory: Samaritan did it.

We’ll find out Tuesday.

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Person of Interest “Lethe” screencaps

Person of Interest’s final 2013 effort, Lethe, gave viewers plenty to consider that I’ll be gathering my thoughts on for the next several days. In the meantime, here are some interesting screencaps to study before it returns in 2014.

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The Machine assigns squares when Finch is trapped
The Machine assigns squares when Finch is trapped.

Take note of the squares The Machine assigns. It views Ma’am as a threat and Claypool gets a white square.

 

The Machine assigns threat levels.
The Machine assigns threat levels.

 

The Machine scans its database of alternate machines, some active, some not.
The Machine scans its database of alternate machines, some active, some not. Note Samaritan is labeled DEACTIVATED.
The Machine changes Samaritan's status to unknown and considers the potential for system conflict.
The Machine changes Samaritan’s status to unknown and considers the potential for system conflict.

 

What does it all mean?

Person of Interest: The perfect scene

root_tbThere are just some scenes. As you watch them, you know you’re watching the writers, actors, editors and everyone involved at their best. Michael Emerson gave us a lot of them as Ben Linus; he gave us another one as Harold Finch.

The plot from last week’s Person of Interest was too complex to summarize here, so click over to CBS for the full recap.  It brushes over the scene with barely a mention, so that is where I will focus.

It is the last scene. Jason Greenfield is on his way to Cartagena, Timothy Sloan is safe, Jason Collier is still free. Much to her frustration, Root is not. Shaw clubbed her after they helped Greenfield escape the CIA and turned her over to Harold.

Here it is.

Everything thing about the exchange is gold. The dialogue is crisp and the footage is edited for perfect timing, showing the right reactions to the right words at the right time. Harold and Root. He wants to keep The Machine hidden, she wants to set it free. For the moment he has the upper hand. Physically, he has her trapped and cut off from any electronic communication that could connect her to The Machine. (You remember what a Faraday cage is, I hope.) Mentally, he poked a hole in her belief that she has a special communion with it. They kept the shot of her face reacting to Harold’s final line so we could see her realize he may share it, too. Perfect.

What Harold knows about The Machine’s new third category, which Jason Greenfield fell under, is unclear. He may be holding Root because The Machine needs him to or because he wants her cut off until he can figure out what is going on.

What is going on with Root and The Machine? The episode gave us a little more to add to the piece I posted last week.

Watch it here from CBS.

The third category and what we know about it may not be any more than what Harold does. Root’s mission from The Machine was to use Shaw to help Greenfield escape CIA custody and flee to Cartagena in Columbia. There he will seek out a bar with a man named Ruiz. Why? Root does not know, she leaves big-picture questions to The Machine. It sees itself (I’m going to avoid using feminine pronouns to describe The Machine for the sake of simplicity in writing about an inanimate female character and an animate one) facing an existential threat that, apparently, Root can help it neutralize. That’s why one of its first acts after rebooting was to retask Root to the “Analog Interface” and break her out of the psychiatric hospital.

The source of the threat could be Peter Collier. Collier is revealed to be the leader of a hacker group by the name “Vigilance.” Wayne Kruger, you’ll recall, found a data mining company that made him a target for Collier in the season’s second episode. Murdering Kruger was the event that caused Jason Greenfield to report Vigilance to the government, which is how he ended up in a cell next to Root at a CIA black site. That is exactly where The Machine knew he would be, and putting Root there to break him out shows how well The Machine can predict events. It makes you wonder how far into the future it can see.

Vigilance protests government surveillance. Jason Collier, meet Edward Snowden. I said before I down want the show to incorporate that affair into its storylines, and I can’t be certain this wasn’t the direction the writers planned for season three last spring. After Harold and Reese saw the week’s number to safety — Jason Greenfield’s brother — Reese expressed his suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of Collier and his band of hackers. I guess that’s how it will be. Person of Interest is a well-done show, as evidenced by the scene I broke down at the beginning, so I trust they can do the story well.

Image credit: CBS.com

Note: I’d have the video embedded instead of linked if I knew a d*rn thing about how the Internet works.

Person of Interest: Digging up Root

Person of Interest - The Machine
Root gets labeled “ANALOG INTERFACE.”

Root serves a valuable role on Person of Interest. Harold Finch, The Machine’s creator, wants his baby kept hidden from the public and the government that uses it. Root is a hacker, not opposed to The Machine’s electronic dragnet but angry at Finch for keeping it locked away. POI fans crave more information about The Machine — what it looks like, where it is, how it works — information that Finch would never give us. Root is the fans’ voice for wanting those answers and the driving force behind the stories that reveal them.

Her character began with misdirection: An otherwise ordinary number-of-the-week is manipulated into killing a U.S. Congressman, but after peeling back the layers we learn the story we thought we saw was not the story we were supposed to see. The killer was set up by a mysterious hacker, Root, as part of a “honey trap” to lure Harold into a scenario of her making from which she could access his systems and get closer to The Machine.

Not content, Root tricked the team again by setting herself up as a NOTW so she could kidnap Harold at the end of season one. Season two began with her holding Harold and Denton Weeks hostage. Weeks commissioned the project that became The Machine, leading Root to believe he or Harold knew its location. She shot Weeks when he refused to give it up and Reese saved Harold after Root escaped. She later popped up as Special Counsel’s secretary before forcing Harold to take her to where The Machine was supposed to be. When it wasn’t there, she suffered a psychotic break prompting Harold to put her in a psychiatric hospital.

Last week Root reappeared after escaping the hospital, and this week’s episode will be about what she does next. Her time in the hospital and her unprecedented relationship with The Machine deserve a deeper look.

Root ended last season wandering through the halls of Stoneridge Hospital. A pay phone rings. She picks up the handset, yellow with a blue seal around the cord, and hears a familiar question, “Can-you-hear-me?” “Absolutely.” It was the same question she and Reese heard when The Machine rebooted after Kara Stanton uploaded a virus meant to take it down. The reboot triggered a 24-hour “God mode” during which Root and Reese could communicate with it directly. We saw the 24 hours end when Root couldn’t retrieve a key code to open a door in the nuclear facility where The Machine was hidden. That’s what made the call to Root in the season’s final scene so perplexing; God mode was supposed to be over but here was the same voice asking her the same question.

This season we saw the same scene through The Machine’s eyes. Root knew about The Machine when she answered the phone so it gave her the usual yellow box as it“retasked,” the asset. The moment she said, “Absolutely,” the box changed. The corners and crosshairs remained yellow but the rest of the outline turned black and she was given a new designation: ANALOG INTERFACE. Here we have to turn to Pedia of Interest:

Black box with yellow corners and crosshairs: Possibly indicates individuals who not only know about the Machine, but have the ability to communicate with it. The Machine internally designates these individuals as “Analog Interface.”

Root can now communicate with The Machine similar to the way she did under God mode, but at a new level. Her sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Ronald Carmichael, detail how complete their communion is.

In the season premiere:

Root: “I have a direct line to a higher power. It speaks to me.”

Dr. Carmichael: “What are those voices telling you to do?”

R: “It’s just the one voice really. It wants me to stay here and work thru some issues.”

Dr.C: “What issues would those be?”

R: “Methodology, we’re discussing how I go about things.”

Dr.C: “Do you have feelings like you’re being watched?”

R: “Every now and then.”

Later, after Dr. Carmichael takes away her phone:

R: “I’m sorry, doctor, but it’s important we be in contact. We’re in the middle of a…disagreement.”

Dr. C: “A disagreement with the voice? I know you believe you need a phone but I am here to tell you that you don’t. I believe that by separating you from it and all other forms of technology it’s really the best course of action. So it’s time to unplug.”

R: “Please, don’t do this. It’s not good for us to be separated.”

He orders her to solitary confinement.

R: “For a psychiatrist, you’re really a terrible judge of character.”

Near the end of the episode Root shocks the doctor:

R: “The truth? The truth is a vast thing, I see that now. Just how much truth there is. Where would we even begin? The truth is you are not very smart. In fact, you’re only the 43rd smartest person in this building.”

Dr.C: “43rd? Okay, um, did your voice tell you that? That’s based on what?”

R: “Every standardized test you ever took averaged together not including your medical boards, which you cheated on. The truth is you smoke an average of 9 cigarettes a week in the parking lot when you think no one’s looking. The truth is you visit a massage parlor once or twice a month and you pay for it with crisp hundred dollar bills that you get out of the cash machine at the 7-11 across the street. The truth is that you fantasize on online forums about having sex with some of your patients. Though not me, yet. I guess I’m not your type. The truth is, God is 11 years old, that she was born on New Year’s Day 2002 in Manhattan. The truth is that she’s chosen me, and I don’t know why yet. But for the first time in my life I’m a little scared about what’s gonna happen. The truth is I’m stuck here for now and the only dialogue you need to be worried about is between me and her which is why you might want to give me my phone back. Because I’m having an argument. Would you like to know the truth, doctor? About what we’re arguing over? Whether or not I’m gonna kill you.”

Several noteworthy things pop out of her dialogue. She got all of this information despite  being in solitary confinement without her phone. How? The date she mentions, January 1, 2002, is when Finch first began teaching The Machine how to recognize subjects. The most notable piece? She and The Machine are arguing, implying real-time two-way communication through the “Analog Interface.”

The analog interface then sounds like exactly what it sounds like: A way for The Machine to communicate (interface) with Root without the apparent need for a digital (analog) connection. To do this, The Machine “retasked” her, an audio term meaning it changed her function to handle a different input. What type of input? We aren’t yet sure. In episode three Root describes her (h/t Joan Osborne) as merely a voice:

Dr.C: “You seem calmer today, Robin.”

R: “I am, it’s almost time for me to leave.”

Dr.C: “Where is it that you’re going?”

R: “You know that’s a good question. I’m not certain yet.”

Dr.C: “Because the voice is going to tell you?”

R: “You’re catching on.”

“Is the voice speaking to you right now?”

Doctor Carmichael points out her phone isn’t connected to a wireless carrier.

R:“God doesn’t need AT&T. Haven’t I already proven to you just how powerful she is? It’s not a condition, it’s the future. By the time you figure out what’s really happening, I’ll have transcended this reality.”

Presumably not being connected to a carrier is no obstacle for The Machine. The opening sequence of every episode shows it connecting to the wifi card in Reese’s camera.

The Machine analyzes Fusco's finances
The Machine detects Reese’s camera.

What does her last sentence mean? It sort of feels like a message to the viewers. By the time we realize how The Machine has changed it will be too late.

Root’s next scene shows how the two interact. Through the dead cellphone she instructs The Machine to control a prescription dispenser by having it entering the password and dispense three vials of Desipramine, an anti-depressant. Her escape plan is underway.

Then The Machine appears to take on a dual personality. While it helps Root engineer an escape plan it also predicts it will turn violent, prompting it to find Harold and warn him. My guess is this is The Machine making sure Harold gets to the hospital before Hersh because Root he is a danger to Root. But who knows? Anything could be on the table at this point.

Maybe Root isn’t dealing with The Machine at all but rather a “bad twin” or offspring unintentionally created by the reboot. Maybe the relocation spread its servers across different sites and each site is developing its own intelligence. Maybe, juuuuuuust maybe, Harold cleaved its artificial psyche when it split the phone call so Root and Reese could interact with it in God mode?

Yesssssssss…excellent…

Person of Interest: Mining The Machine

If you’ve watched the show since its premiere you probably once had the same thought I did, “What do the yellow boxes mean on Person of Interest?” We caught on quickly to the way The Machine detects faces and assigns them a box based on their classification. Yellow boxes know about The Machine, white for regular people, etc. The Person of Interest wiki has them all listed, plus other boxes for cars, boats and more. Check it out for a good background on POI’s most mysterious character.

I am not going to repeat the information from the wiki, but I do have several screenshots from the first five episodes of season three that provide insight on how the machine works. Some of them have probably been present since the beginning. Some are new to this season and really open up the way The Machine picks out numbers and judges threats.

The Opening Sequence

The opening sequences features Finch explaining The Machine over a series of shots showing the cast.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine accesses a camera.

The Machine taps into everything to gather information including a camera on this NYPD helipad.

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This slideshow shows the records The Machine will analyze when it tracks someone. In this case the lucky subject is Fusco.

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These shots show The Machine classifying subjects. Reese, of course, is not missing just like Shaw is not dead. These shots were from the season premiere when The Machine may have believed she was but it still identifies her that way five episodes in.

The Machine analyzes Fusco's finances
The Machine detects Reese’s camera.

The Machine doesn’t just find a camera, it identifies it. In this case it accessed the wifi in Reese’s camera to determine what it was shooting and details about the camera itself.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine gathers all kinds of information on a potential threat.

Being able to access so much information in its databases allows The Machine to identify the type of gun this threat is holding (it is hard to see the red triangles around the weapon). Like Reese’s camera, The Machine reads all kinds of information about the gun.

Gathering Information

This slideshow shows four ways The Machine gathers its information and uses it to connect dots between subjects.

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Tracking Root

Episode three was Root-centric and gave us the best look into The Machine we’ve ever had. First it showed how it identified her and connected her to her different aliases. The Machine then went into its archives to show her walk with Finch last year when he neutralized her threat, albeit temporarily.

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This sequence is interesting. It shows Root answering the yellow phone at the end of last season from The Machine’s perspective. Notice how her box goes from yellow to yellow and black. According to the wikiPossibly indicates individuals who not only know about the Machine, but have the ability to communicate with it. The Machine internally designates these individuals as “Analog Interface.” The third photo shows it in her meeting with Dr. Carmichael.

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Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine begins to generate predictions.

This is the shot that prompted me to do this post. I don’t recall the show ever giving us a look at exactly how The Machine goes about determining potential outcomes and their probabilities. It is The Machine on all cylinders, tapping into all of its databases and its vast amount of predictive ability.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The first calculations surrounding Root.

These are the initial predictions. Violence at 30.19 percent, asset activation at 28.44. I’m not sure which asset it means, I assume Root?

Person of Interest - The Machine
More possibilities come from The Machine’s predictions.

The predictions begin to branch out. Notice how they maintain the color coding system. Red for violence, yellow for assets. Blue is labeled “OPERATIONAL RELEVANCE.” Blue boxes are for government agents pursuing numbers, so this could mean The Machine predicts an outcome where Root will cross paths with someone pursuing The Machine’s true purpose. Note that the percentages have changed. Violence is now more likely, Dr. Carmichael is in serious danger, an administrator may die and asset activation has edged up slightly.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine continues developing predictions.

The predictions really begin to sprout. Dr. Carmichael is marginally more likely to survive and a mass casualty event is now predicted at 9.54 percent. Look at all the yellow predictions. Almost 63 percent odds that the asset gets captured, 17.56 percent the crisis is averted and 2 percent for something called Aux Admin. Notice, too, the probability of violence eeks upward.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine sees Valentine’s Day.

While The Machine predicts a small chance Root will trigger global thermonuclear war look up in the left corner. The Machine covers all possible outcomes, even the 0.04-percent chance that Root and Dr. Carmichael will get married and have kids. Aww! ❤

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine assesses the likelihood that Root escapes.

The Machine sees a good chance that Root will successfully escape the hospital and a small chance she will die. It’s not pictured but Dr. Carmichael’s percentage changed to 19.9. Things are looking up for the doctor! In the final scene before her escape Root tells him she won’t kill him. The Machine is giving her instructions not to kill people, including Hersh.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine believes it is likely Root will be intercepted.

A new and very likely outcome is predicted: Asset interception.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine reaches a conclusion.

This is big. The Machine predicted a 97.23 percent chance of violence and determined an intervention is necessary. It then found Harold near a pay phone and alerted him. Look at all the lines connecting to various bits of information The Machine relied on for its predictions!

Look at this slideshow as The Machine continues to analyze data and make predictions. The data connects different subjects and even identifies the possible death of a subject who’s name is redacted. Hmmm.

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Target Proximity

Having determined Root is in danger, The Machine plots her location on a map with Hersh’s as we see Hersh leaving a hospital after failing to find Root. The Machine identifies other places he might look before finding the quickest route between his location and Root’s. Another great example of all the information The Machine can pull, process and interpret.

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Archives

The Machine has gone back in time throughout the series to show us things that happened before the show began. This slideshow tracks The Machine as it scrolls through its timeline to tell Shaw’s story. Again going back to the wiki, when The Machine sees this old footage it analyzes it for the first time, but I’m more interested in where the information comes from. Harold began to train The Machine in 2001, it didn’t go online until 2003. Is it accessing some vast archive? Could it be linked to previous attempts at mass electronic surveillance and data gathering? We don’t know.

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Thank you for making it to the end of this marathon post. I appreciate it. I really enjoy these little details they drop into TV shows. Lost did it all the time. It gives fans something to examine that yields a better understanding of the show and shows the producers take the most minute details seriously.

This post took the better part of a Saturday to put together. I reviewed all five episodes this season and went slow-motion through every image we saw through The Machine’s eyes, pausing to scour the screen and take photos. They are iPhone photos and it wasn’t always easy to pause the show at exactly the right moment for the text to be sharp.

I’ll have a future post about what’s going on with Root and the unique relationship she has with The Machine.