An Analysis of Identity in Artificial Intelligence as presented in Westworld by Angelica Ourri

Published with permission.

An Analysis of Identity in Artificial Intelligence as presented in Westworld
The following essay will aim to explore the concept of true Identity in Artificial Intelligence. The paper will present an analysis of the various ways that the 2016 HBO tv show, Westworld, has portrayed identity and the journey to self-consciousness through the main characters multilayered and complex journey towards the centre of the maze. An idea created by the android’s creators in Westworld.


The paper will also look at Westworld in comparison to Plato’s allegory as it is vital in understanding the situation artificial intelligence exists in within Westworld.

Moreover, the second part of this essay shall look at the 2015 movie Ex ­ Machina and contrast the notion of identity creation in A.I with the one in Westworld.
To complete the following paper the essay uses primary research and analysis of the HBO show Westworld.

Additionally, there is extensive research of Plato’s allegory of the cave in order to introduce a proper comparison between the allegory and Westworld. In order to demonstrate the above, the paper utilises the books Plato’s mirror and the actuality of the cave allegory as well as Interpreting Plato’s Cave as an Allegory of the Human Condition.

The essay will also explore various theories around the theme of Identity from essentialism to post-structuralism, by using a variety of books and journals such as culture after humanism The Sovereign individual and The Dilemmas of Identity.

The paper will also look at the theme of trauma and its importance to creating an identity and reaching human consciousness, for A.I and humans.

In order to examine the significance of trauma the paper has used books and journals such as Performing the past, Reconstructing trauma and meaning and Memory, history, and identity.
During 514a–520a Plato, the Greek founder of western philosophy, as one could argue,
introduced and presented the Allegory of the Cave. (Beitin, Emmerling and French, 2012)

This allegory tells how a group of people, in a cave below the earth, are chained in such a way that they can only see their opposing wall. They can not look back, neither right nor left. there is fire on and in between a road, along which there is a small wall. So anything that occurs behind their backs is represented as a shadow on the opposite wall. People walk with a variety of items, from animal to human models, with the shadows appearing on the wall as a result of the fire and road.

Since these people have only seen shadows of things, they have the impression that the
shadows of the items are the items themselves and the echo of the distant voices from behind is perceived as the voice of the items on the wall.
Stagnant on this shadows, the people in the cave never doubt the nature or legitimacy of their reality. However, in the allegory, one of them manages to escape and began to advance in the outside world. As he moves he observes the cave the fire, and the items that are being carried but the passage to the world of light is a journey towards truth and wisdom. As someone guides him, he becomes more in touch with his sense of being and objects feeling real.
However, the prisoner comes to a moment of doubt and question in which in an awkward and scared take over he is unable to answer to his guide who is asking him about the items he is noticing. His question goes beyond his existential confusion but also he becomes aware of his own ignorance. The items he is observing are put in comparison to the shadows he has been seeing for his whole life thus, bringing him in a position to make a decision on which of the two is more true or real.


He realises the road to the world of light is filled with difficulties and at that moment, looking both at the exit and the cave wall he tries to make the decision. At first, he insists to stay in his original state rather than walk out for the very same reason he escaped in the first place; the question in which he puts to borderline, between his current reality of the shadows, or the uncertainty of the outside world. The prisoner in this scenario does not know whether the outside is enjoyable or dangerous, thus he is not willing to leave the comfort of the safety he has in his present situation in the shadows. Starting over in the unknown would mean suffering and a psychological cost which he chooses to avoid. Slowly his resistance fades with time, and he begins to walk even further out, becoming adjusted to the light and the sounds, and accustomed with the new conditions, taking in the details and the items of which he had only seen a mere representation of his entire life (Hall, 1980).

At that moment he is whole as he has seen and experienced reality and his self with the eyes of his soul, and a true identity of his own self-begins to be created. (Kuntzel and Huston, 1980)
As mentioned above Plato’s allegory of the cave was presented around the 514a–520a
century yet, today is more relevant than ever. The allegory could be applied to a variety of problems and situation in today’s society, from the impact Mass media has on shaping reality to politics, and propaganda (Manera, 2007).

Artificial Intelligence machines or robots are programmed from the moment they exist, to serve some simple rules and purposes. From their “birth” they are introduced to certain scenarios and responses in which they have no say in many cases, such as in the people in Plato’s cave allegory, having no awareness of their state, condition or reality.
Following, the main part of this essay will focus on the above idea looking principally at the example of Westworld and the hosts as an A.I allegory of the cave and how these characters begin the journey to reach the “world of light” in order to unlock true consciousness and realise their true identity.
West World, is a 2016 HBO series (WestWorld, 2016), inspired by the 1987 homonymous
film. The series features a futuristic amusement park in the near future which is “inhabited”
with Artificial intelligence, that is called hosts, originally created by the current director and chief of the park, Dr Robert Ford and he is currently deceased partner Arnold. The park is funded by Dellos destinations, and people pay a fee to visit Westworld and become guests in this world in which they are allowed to bring all their fantasies to life without consequences. In this way, they complete freedom as the “hosts” although unaware of their state, are unable to harm them in any substantial way. From the perspective of the guests, Westworld would be presented as a haven of anarchy where rules cease to apply and only the most primal parts of one’s identity remain guiding them in their self-discovery journey.
However, this paper will look at Westworld from the perspective of the hosts and their
different path to self-actualization and identity through routes that often collide. Westworld begins to follow the journey of Dolores Abernathy, the oldest working host in the park, as she begins to become self-aware that her life and she herself, are nothing more than a construction much like the escaped prisoner in Plato’s allegory.

Guy Debord argued the theory of the society of spectacle were citizens simply absorb
mainstream media and its messages without questioning it. In Westworld one can see the same notion of the spectacle society in the hosts that rule and follow under specific ideologies which they were programmed with, and even more in line with Deports theory, the hosts western life and world is nothing more than a mere representation living the hosts with no control over their actions and lives, becoming in a sense, simply spectators of the show of their lives (Debord, 1994).
For the next part, despite the show’s complicated timeline and setting transitions, the paper will break down the most substantial moments in Dolores Identity Journey.


The series can be divided into three major timelines for a more clear approach. First are the three years of construction and preparation before the park opening, Pre Westworld era. Dolores story begins 30 years before the current timeline, at the pre-Westworld era.
Dolores was a host created by Arnold, who in the process of making and interacting with her for three years before the park officially opened, he developed a connection. Arnold mourning over the loss of his son began to work and became obsessed with a maze toy he had and on the concept that the hosts are capable and should reach the centre of their identity and consciousness. He introduces her to the concept of the maze, and what lies in the centre of it. In the first year of the park’s opening, Arnold has a breakthrough with Dolores, after she gives him an answer about grief that makes him believe that she has achieved human consciousness. Thus, he stands for shutting down the park even though, Dr Ford disagrees.


Arnold mixes Dolores character with one of the famous murderers’, and along with her love interest, Teddy they massacre all the hosts along with Arnold himself, in an effort to damage the park’s reputation forcing it to shut down. However, Ford managed to save the park and cover up the fact that the hosts are gaining consciousness.
The second timeline starts in past Westworld, a few years before the current timeline after the park officially reopens. In this timeline guests, William and Logan go to visit the park. By that time the hosts, including Dolores and Teddy, were formatted and put back into new loops, until William takes Dolores with him on a journey and takes her out of it, making her remember the maze and convinces William to help her find the centre. The audience is shown that journey that they take, mostly unaware until the finale, that their journey, although seemingly scenes from the same period, are actually part of different times William visited the park as they would take this same journey, all the time. Part of the scenes features Dolores alone, which are scenes set in the current timeline as Dolores retraces her steps to self-actualisation which will be explained below.


In the current timeline one of the main antagonists “the man in black” arrives at Westworld, after killing Maeve’s, a character that will be further mentioned below, the daughter he witnesses true pain in Maeve’s who is shot with human instinct and attacks him. This incident triggers the timeline as it makes him realise that the hosts may actually be on the road to gaining consciousness and hurting humans. He hopes this is what he will find at the center of the maze, as well as hosts that can fight back, he had heard of but never reached the center of it, and thus begins the current timeline. A traumatic interaction
between Dolores and the man in black causes Dolores to relapse , and go out of her loop,
retracing her steps on the journey she took with William.

The audience see the three  Timelines mainly through Dolores current timelines setting, and the other timeline scenes, are more like memories and glitches, which is why she is often featured talking to herself or suddenly appearing alone. Thus, the following part of this essay will look at what exactly was Dolores journey through the current timeline and the memories, and how according to the series, her identity and human consciousness is achieved.

At the current timeline, Dolores is set off by a traumatic event that wakes her desire for
consciousness. She starts remembering the path she had with William and retraces her step to the centre of the “maze” in order to achieve consciousness. At the same time another character, Maeve who run the brothel but was killed by the man in black in a previous character, takes her own journey to self consciousness and full awareness.
However, at this point, the show takes a more anti­ essentialist approach as the two characters take very different approaches and routes towards the consciousness and the audience can see identity being developed via elaborate and variable connection with society and cultural discourse.
Furthermore, it is important at this point to mention what the creator Arnold had identified as consciousness and the route to the centre of it, or the “maze” as he called it. At this current narrative, 30 years after Arnolds death and Dolores original journey, Dr ford realised the consciousness and begins his own master plan which includes rebuilding Dolores original journey to the centre of the maze so she can eventually retrace and reach the end. Along with Dolores, the man in black is also in search of “the maze” believing is the deepest level of this game.


However, the maze is not a game for the guests, is the answer to the question “who am i” that drives the hosts journey, so despite the man in black’s belief, it not a tangible place but rather an inner journey to true consciousness and self Identity. The maze was described by Arnold as a pyramid, with memories as the base, improvisation and lastly Consciousness. As Anthony Giddens would argue, identity is a project and the self is driven through their own individual narrative and story in order to create a coherent sense of self identity and rather
than identity just being there is a journey and process (Giddens, 1991). Thus at the bottom of the pyramid lie the memories, the hosts true memories rather the fake scenarios implanted.

The memory factor is also the one that plays an important part in the beginning of the hosts self awareness. The latest hosts update featured one by Dr. Ford by originally designed by Arnold, the update is called reveries. Reveries are small almost unnoticeable subtle gestures that are linked to previous memories making the hosts more lifelike. However, the reveries made the hosts complete pieces of their life, resulting in the villains holding grudges, or excessive aggression, as well as mental breakdowns and glitches (Tilmans, Vree and Winter, 2010) . The second as mentioned above is improvisation. Improvisation is very important to the hosts as it allows the to interact in a more human communication form rather than simply scripted responses. In this way, the show takes a structuralist approach between the mind and body (Kidd and Teagle, 2012). Language improvisation was the initial sign of self consciousness both Arnold and Ford saw in the hosts , especially Dolores(WestWorld, 2016).
In Structuralism, human nature is understood via order and structure despite abstract ideas, and so are the hosts supposed to act under a normal function, however, improvisation is the second step to consciousness which takes the shows understanding of identity into a more post structuralist approach (Pavel, 2001). The beginning of the identity path partly lies on those improvised moments, where the hosts begin to develop a deeper meaning into their words and conversation and along with language, in a post structuralist point of view the show and the host begin to vanish the idea of binary oppositions via the multilayered characters.

When Ford began to notice consciousness in the hosts, he added another section to the
pyramid. Pain and suffering. Ford argued that what makes the characters truly real is
the response to intense trauma (Sabol, 2007) a valid argument, and theme, the
audience see in the host’s identity development. The man in black noticed
identity when he killed Maeve’s daughter and Arnold noticed it in Dolores in a
conversation with Arnold after her family was killed.


A traumatic event is also often
the cornerstone in the backstory of the hosts. The trauma is what makes the hosts, victims , survivors and their true self. “ (Rogobete, 2015)
“Why would I want that? The pain, their loss… it’s all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me, like a building with rooms I’ve never explored. “ (WestWorld, 2016)

Furthermore, the show continues an anti essentialist approach(Conn, 2003) to identity in which identity is not fixed or binary and but rather complex and layered based on the hosts journeys to consciousness and their traumas(Schöpflin, 2010) . Thus the pyramid of consciousness became a maze as is a journey inwards rather than upwards.
Another theme intensely seen in the show is the one of the creator and the creation as God and mortal(Richter, 1984). In Dolores lasts steps to true consciousness she realises that the voice she has been hearing leading her to the centre of the maze, are not arnolds or gods , as officially thought, but her own inner voice thus achieving true consciousness.
This allows the show in taking a humanist approach to the theme of identity (Chambers, 2001), as it places the individual at the centre rather than a god or divine power and give the individual the tools to develop own understanding of the world .Thus, in a more positive perspective as Fiske would argue the hosts are not passive to the signs both internal and external that they are receiving, but are actually using them in order to construct their own individual identity (Fiske, 2011). However, in a twist, Dolores final journey, was all planned by ford for his final masterpiece as he called it as a swansong and.After dolores becomes conscious she comes to the understanding that their world and they do not belong to anyone and that their creators are simply humans and not
gods again putting the human and individual factor at the centre (Deuze, 2011). Thus as Ford is having a speech in the park, in his planned execution , Dolores kills him and
other hosts on the road to consciousness begin to kill all the other sponsors in the park to exact revenge.

Despite Dolores awaking, she is still not completely free, and in fact, in the first season, only one hosts have managed to achieve full consciousness. Maeve herself is on the path to self discovery, but by having two westworld mechanics alter her intelligence and other traits she chose.

Maeve manages to reach consciousness, and become whole in her identity, which leads her to escape, however at the last minute she decides to leave the train and go back to westworld to find the daughter she had that the man in black killed. This is the ultimate point of consciousness for any host, as , similarly to Dolore’s journey, the majority of Maeve’s was also planned , with “mainland infiltration as the final step. So when she gets of the train that is her true self and complete identity and consciousness as she becomes a sovereign individual seen to be placing power and destiny in her own hands, having full ownership and freedom of expression (Davidson and Rees­ Mogg, 1999).
Moreover, it could be argued, that this revelation of the hosts and now conscious nature will lead to unavoidable struggle and conflict between the two which could be the next natural step to evolution. If one is to look at the hosts and identity from a darwinian biology perspective, then it is possible to argue what Dr. Ford has said, that this is the end of human evolution (Dilley, 2013).
“We’ve managed to slip evolution’s leash now, haven’t we? We can cure any disease, keep
even the weakest of us alive and one fine day perhaps we shall even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave. Do you know what that means?That means we are done, that this is as good as it gets.” (WestWorld, 2016)
The 2016 presented a groundbreaking representation around the theme of self
discovery, identity and consciousness in Artificial Intelligence. The show has been a huge
success because of it’s a­list casting, progressive characters and complex ideas around
identity while imposing many of the questions faced by the hosts on to the audience.
However, the theme of awareness and identity in Artificial intelligence is a topic that has been explored and researched in depth by the science community, film , and sociology amongst other fields. A year prior to the release of westworld, the film Ex­machina took a close look at artificial intelligence, the turing test and self identity, and explored various themes which can also be found in westworld.
Ex machina is a 2015 independent psychological A.I thriller hybrid. Its profits highly exceeded the costs, and it received a huge response despite being made on a small budget. The film follows the story of a young programmer, Caleb smith, who has won a week in the house of Nathan Bateman, the CEO of the acclaimed company, Blue Book Software, where Caleb works. Bateman lives isolated in a high technology fully equipped house, with his only companion being his servant Kyoko, who does not speak english. As the audience sees Caleb approaching a house, one could argue that there’s a high representation of technology as means to an easier, more accessible and safer life, at least from the perspective of the owner.
Bateman has created a groundbreaking Artificial intelligence humanoid called Ava, who has already passed the simple turing test. However, Bateman aimed for ava to reach a deeper level of awareness, much like the centre of the maze in Westworld. Caleb was brought to be the human factor in the turing test and to help judge whether Ava is actually capable of reaching that level of genuine thoughts and feelings, and more importantly if caleb could make a true connection and relate to her despite being aware she is artificial.
“A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.” Computing Machinery and Intelligence(Turing, 1950)
This notion is also seen in westworld in a phrase often repeated when a hosts is asked
whether they are real or not; “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”.
From merely the beginning of the movie, another similar theme is shown but from different a more closer perspective.
Nathan Bateman is presented with some characteristics often associated in individuals with a god complex, as the audience observes his repeated notion of himself that this creation will ultimately make him “a god” .
Horst­ Eberhard Ritchet studied the notion of god complex in the western man, and despite being an older perspective it could be applied in this case in the development of children especially during the rebellious phase, and how this can affect the later on the individual into domination issues and god complex(Richter, 1984) . Another more subtle indication would be the name his has given the A.I, Ava, which poses a simile to the bible’s First woman Eva.

He treats his creation, although fully aware of her parts of consciousness, as one would treat an owned position. In a later conversation between Ava and Caleb, it’s revealed that, like in Plato’s allegory of the cave, she had never been outside, and she has been locked in her room with the ability to interact only with what is allowed by Nathan. Bateman and Dr. Ford as both view A.I humanoids as the next step to evolution and the end to human evolution as Bateman says “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa” (Ex­machina, 2015)

However, in comparison to westworld, when it comes to construction of identity, Ex ­ machina takes an essentialist approach. For the creator, the gender and sexuliaty factor play a huge role in creating an identity and for the A.I’s to reach consciousness. That is noticeable from the minute Ava appears, she is build with a female form, a form that follows a very stereotypical notion of women, and re confirms the beauty myth,  described by Naomi Wolf as means to perfection (Wolf, 1991). This becomes greatly
emphasized, when Caleb questions Bateman on why he did not take a more non binary
version when creating Ava, suggesting that a specific gender or sexuality were not needed. One could argue that this remark resonates with the work of Judith butler(Butler, 1999) that gender is no more than a performance and not so much a
biological or cognitive function. Nathan disagrees, and he believes Avas sexuality is vital to creating consciousness

Caleb: Why did you give her sexuality? An AI doesn’t need a gender. She could have been a grey box.
Nathan: Actually I don’t think that’s true. Can you give an example of consciousness at any level, human or animal, that exists without a sexual dimension?
Caleb: They have sexuality as an evolutionary reproductive need.
Nathan: What imperative does a grey box have to interact with another grey box? Can
consciousness exist without interaction? Anyway, sexuality is fun, man. If you’re gonna exist, why not enjoy it? You want to remove the chance of her falling in love and fucking? And the answer to your real question, you bet she can fuck.” (Ex­Machina, 2015)

In further conversations, Ava convinces Caleb that Nathan is being dishonest, and should not be trusted. The movie follows Caleb’s deep connection with Ava, and a journey of the relation between A.I and human. The movie places an important question also seen in Westworld, namely the weight in a conscious A.I’s life when Ava is asked Caleb whether she will be shut down if she fails to pass the test. After Caleb discovers footage confirming Avas warnings and discovering Kyoke is actually an android herself who has been deeply abused by Nathan, he develops an escape plan with Ava.
Nathan tries to convince Caleb that the true test of this week was for Ava to manage and manipulate Caleb into helping her, that was the sign of true intelligence.However, in a twist of events, Ava kills Nathan with the help of Kyoko, uses a skin-like material from other models to cover herself and abandons Caleb locked in the facility, whilst taking the helicopter meant to take him to home. Overcoming her creator and tester, Ava, in a twist of poetic revenge, reaches ‘true consciousness’, as Caleb ends up in the same situation as Ava in the beginning: locked in the room after being manipulated and abused.

The topic of identity has concern many , from audiences to engineers, as the
creation of true self awareness in a humanoid would cross the bridge of the uncanny valley to a new form a being that is to be marked in history. Filmmakers have dueled on that the theme of true consciousness and identity, and it is clear that with no actual proof, many have taken a variety often different routes. Some , like westworld, chose to see and present it as a journey that is to be taken by the A.I itself, giving the hosts like the human paths of different choices to be taken that will all lead them to the centre in their individual way. Others, such as in the ExMachina movie, review identity as a set of goals and objectives , and consciousness been achieved by completing and reaching the end of those objectifying, setting identity in a much more binary oppositional essentialist view . However, in the majority of the imagined A.I consciousness stories, as well as the ones mentioned above, the androids manage to become their true self. Once consciousness and true intelligence is achieved, it is much stronger than the one of humans, causing an uprising yet leaving the audience siding with the A.I as one is faced with the question posed by one of the hosts (WestWorld, 2016)
“Lifelike, but not alive. Pain always exists in the mind; it’s always imagined. So what’s the
difference between my pain and yours, between you and me?”

Beitin, A., Emmerling, L. and French, B. (2012). Platons’ mirror and the actuality of the cave
allegory. 1st ed. Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.
Butler, J. (1999). Gender trouble. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
Chambers, I. (2001). Culture after humanism. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Conn, C. (2003). Locke on essence and identity. 1st ed. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic
Davidson, J. and Rees­Mogg, W. (1999). The sovereign individual. 1st ed. New York: Simon &
Debord, G. (1994). The society of the spectacle. 1st ed. New York: Zone Books.
Deuze, M. (2011). Media life. Media, Culture & Society, [online] 33(1), pp.137­148. Available
Dilley, S. (2013). Darwinian evolution and classical liberalism. 1st ed.
Ex­ Machina. (2015). [film] Alex Garland.
Fiske, J. (2011). Television culture. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self­identity. 1st ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press in
association with Basil Blackwell.
Hall, D. (1980). Interpreting Plato’s Cave as an Allegory of the Human Condition. Apeiron,
Kidd, W. and Teagle, A. (2012). Culture and identity. 1st ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kuntzel, T. and Huston, N. (1980). Sight, Insight, and Power: Allegory of a Cave. Camera
Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 2(3 6), pp.90­110.
Manera, A. (2007). The “Allegory of the Cave’s” Influence on 21st Century Media. [online] Available at:­of­caves­influence­on­21st.html
[Accessed 4 Feb. 2017].
Pavel, T. (2001). The spell of language. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Richter, H. (1984). All mighty. 1st ed. Claremont, CA, U.S.A.: Hunter House.
Rogobete, I. (2015). Reconstructing trauma and meaning. 1st ed. pp.42­56.
Sabol, J. (2007). Memory, history, and identity. 1st ed.
Schöpflin, G. (2010). The Dilemmas of Identity. 1st ed. TLU Press, pp.184­190.
Tilmans, K., Vree, F. and Winter, J. (2010). Performing the past. 1st ed. Amsterdam:
Amsterdam University Press.
Turing, A. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. 1st ed. [England]: [publisher not
WestWorld. (2016). HBO.
Wolf, N. (1991). The beauty myth. 1st ed. New York: W. Morrow.