By and large, TV shows tend to be formulaic and genre-driven. It is very rare to come across a series that breaks the mold so successfully that it simply defies genre classification. Thankfully, Netflix’s latest series is just that, straddling the genres of drama, Sci-Fi, black comedy, and more.
Mental health is a central theme in this dystopian vision of the human future. Countless reviews have already drawn parallels between our current digital culture and how they are taken to their bleak yet funny extremes in Maniac. In this (partly imagined) convergence of the social and digital, it comes as no surprise that AI plays a key role.
The Robots That We Didn’t Know We Needed!
From purple robot koalas playing chess to an all-powerful general AI designed in the image of its creator’s mother, Maniac is full of colorful AI characters, both minor as well as central to the story. While the utility of a “mom-bot” in real life may be questionable at best, there is still one AI robot in Maniac this world desperately needs (along with the koala bot): a sanitation robot that keeps our streets clean by scooping up doggie poop!
The Role Played AI in Maniac’s Mental Health Dystopia
Maniac’s whole premise is so warped and surreal, even its key AI character suffers from depression. And don’t forget, this is a powerful general AI tasked with guiding the participants through a treatment process that involves powerful psychedelics! The AI, called GRTA or “Greta”, is a brilliant mix of elements from psychotherapy, future AI, and various tribal shamanistic traditions.
But of course, in a real-world clinical setting, no one in their right minds would assign an AI with the potential for clinical depression to treat human beings. We already have other humans to fill that role, thank you! AI has already shown tremendous potential in helping human cope with psychological issues, in the form of mental health chatbots like Tess, or Woebot.
Don’t Read Too Much in Between the Lines
We are still far, far away from the creation of a true strong AI like Greta. Attempts are already underway to instill current AI with emotional intelligence. There is no way of telling how that might backfire, but in its own dark comic style, Maniac presents one way it might go down.
AI will certainly have a role to play in the future of human mental health. But in all probability, it will remain firmly in a secondary, supportive role, under expert human oversight.
So let’s just enjoy Maniac for what it is in the meantime. An exhilarating ride into a surreal future that mixes in heavy doses of our present reality within it. It’s too funny to be taken seriously, yet genuinely compelling with its dark implications.