Danny Webb, who plays Professor Edwin Hobb on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about what drew him to the role, creating a “cuddly” antagonist and his optimism about the future of artificial intelligence.
Q: What drew you to the character of Edwin Hobb?
A: I think the enigmatic part of the character — because you’re not really sure of his motives. When I started, the scripts weren’t fully complete yet and I didn’t know where he was going to go. You don’t know whether he’s doing it for selfish reasons or for humanity. But there are quite a few twists and that’s what drew me: the enigma of it.
Q: One could say that Hobb is the main antagonist, but for the most part, he’s still quite likeable. How do you maintain that balance in his character?
A: There is that father side, that cuddly side to him, towards the Synths. But there’s a darker side as well. I didn’t want him to play like a Dr. No with a pussycat on his lap. His intentions are good. He sees these machines as a threat. I played him more as a doctor who sees the Synths as a virus that could get out and destroy millions of people. Whatever you feel about them, as much as the Synths are very nice people, at the same time, they can destroy our concept of humanity. I saw it that the Synths are the next stage in evolution. Humans wiped out the Neanderthals and the Synths will wipe out Homo sapiens, so Hobb is trying to contain that threat.
Q: Hobb mentions his fear of the singularity: the moment when machines will surpass humanity. Do you share the same fear, or are you more optimistic about artificial intelligence?
A: I’m more optimistic! In a way, I see it as the next stage of evolution. If you can download your DNA or your intelligence, you could live forever really. You could turn yourself into a Synth. The exploration of our galaxy will be done by robots anyway. You could go to new planets and populate the next stage of life. So I’m more optimistic. I think it could be very good.
Q: If it were an option in real life, would you get a Synth?
A: I’ve thought about that. Never say never, I suppose, but they are a bit creepy. But if they could make the bed and clean the toilets, it’s an attractive proposition. [Laughs] I think that what happens, though, is you initially say, “I wouldn’t,” but then the technology progresses and you get used to things and they become second nature. Maybe my generation would feel strange with one, but my daughter’s generation would be completely comfortable. I personally probably wouldn’t want one. I still think it’s like a slave. If it didn’t look so human, then maybe I would get one. Maybe if it looked like a tin can or something.
Q: Do you think their physical appearance is what makes Synths so off-putting, while other artificial intelligence is considered good for humanity?
A: I think it’s the human quality of it, which is disturbing. Because it looks like a human, you feel like you’re exploiting a human being. You see the dishwasher doing the dishes and you don’t feel badly about that. [Laughs]
The HUMANS Season Finale airs Sunday at 9/8c.
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