Caprica star rooting for the robots

Vancouver native Magda Apanowicz, star of the sci-fi TV show Caprica, says we need to think about the impact of our technology before it's too late.

It's been said that good science fiction isn't so much a forecast of the future as a reflection of the present. If indeed that's the case, then Caprica — the prequel series to the hit TV show Battlestar Galactica — gives us cause to worry.

Caprica, set on the fictional world of the same name, takes place 58 years before Battlestar Galactica and documents the lead-up to humanity's near obliteration by a race of robots it created.

Plot-wise, Caprica is the back story of how those robots — the shiny chromatic Cylons, with their ominous single red eyes — were created, and why they eventually turn on their human masters. Thematically, the show hits on many of the same issues that endeared the original series to critics and audiences. Current real-world moral and ethical minefields such as religion and terrorism are portrayed from multiple viewpoints, as is the role of technology and the potential it has to lead humanity astray from its core values.

Caprica the world is very similar to our own, a fast-paced consumerist society addicted to the latest gizmos and gadgets. The hottest toy on the market is the Holoband, a visor that allows users to enter virtual worlds. Similar to the internet, the most popular of these "V worlds" are debauched, sex-soaked nightclubs or ultra-violent, winner-takes-all action games.

Magda Apanowicz, a 24-year-old Vancouver native, plays Lacy Rand, best friend to Zoe Graystone, a pivotal character in the creation of the Cylons. Zoe, a computer whiz, creates an algorithm that can simulate an individual's personality by studying the electronic footprints he or she leaves: banking records, emails, photographs, social media profiles and so on.

When Zoe dies in a terrorist attack, her personality secretly lives on as an artificial intelligence avatar, first in the V worlds and then in the Cylon body created by her father, the industrialist Daniel Graystone.

Zoe's existence is known only to Lacy, who must help her friend escape the ethically dubious Daniel, who wants to turn Zoe's robot body into a weapon.

Caprica deals with frightening social issues: star

"It's not a simple show that you can sum up in a sentence, which I think is a good thing. I could say that it's the origin story of a Cylon, but I truly don't think that's the only thing the show's about," said Apanowicz in an interview at last week's Comic Con convention in Toronto.

"It's about the rise and fall of a nation … It's saying, 'Hey, this is a possibility if you take a look at our world and our lives.' If you take the similarities, we have the possibility of imploding ourselves, and maybe sometimes we should stop and take a look."

Caprica deals with frightening social issues, she said, that are directly related to our real world. The depiction of sexuality in the V worlds, where teenagers congregate in mass orgies at nightclubs, is perhaps the show's strongest reflection of the real world. The plethora of freely available pornographic content on our internet, coupled with ubiquitous advanced communications technology, is redefining how young people view sexuality, and not necessarily in a good way, Apanowicz said.

"A lot of youth are exposed to so much sexuality and that scares me," she said. "There's no way to stop it, and I [can't help but] think of how scary it must be to raise a child" right now.

Like Battlestar Galactica, known by fans as BSG, Caprica also deals with issues that humanity will likely have to address in the next few decades, such as how to treat artificial intelligences and robots' rights. Both AI and robotics development is moving quickly in the real world, with some robots already possessing high degrees of autonomy. As the ability to develop personalities arrives, so too will the need to reassess our definitions of what a person is, Apanowicz said.

Show raises questions about humans playing god

As with many robot morality tales before it, Caprica also raises questions about humans playing god, and whether we've properly considered the implications of doing so.

On the show, the consequences of failing to do that are implied by the very nature of the prequel — the destruction seen in BSG. On that show, it's ironically the robots that eventually try to help the humans recapture their lost spirituality. Apanowicz is just one of many fans who ultimately ended up rooting for the Cylons because of that.

"Cylons are the ones that are trying to help humanity find its way," she said. "Humans are the ones who are so lost and it's the artificial life that is trying to help, although obviously not in the best way."

Despite covering similar thematic ground, Caprica hasn't yet captured the same audience as BSG. The show, which just aired its mid-season finale Friday on SyFy in the United States and Space in Canada, isn't pulling in the ratings hoped for, which has fans online wondering if there will be a second season.

The second half of the first season, Apanowicz insisted, will be back in the fall. The show is only just now starting to find its soul, she said, which is common timing for a new series. She hopes Caprica will be given a chance to develop.

"As a sequel or a prequel I don't expect as many people to show up to the party as were there for the original thing," she said. "But I think it's a solid show and if it really is, people will come to it."