Westworld: Why is Incite’s supercomputer called ‘Rehoboam’?


The first two seasons of Westworld revolved around the robotic “hosts” of a futuristic theme park fighting back against their human creators, with often violent delights results. But the third season, underway right now on HBO, sees those hosts moving around in the “real” world, our world.

Only it’s not quite our world. It’s several decades into the future, and technology has taken a few disturbing turns. You see, there’s a technology company, Incite, that has control over a supercomputer called Rehoboam. It sits in the lobby of the company’s headquarters, big and spherical and mysterious.

Rehoboam collects and synthesizes data about everyone in the world, and can pinpoint with startling accuracy how their lives are going to progress. In fact, it goes further and actually guides them along a path it chooses, all in the name of preventing global catastrophe of the kind that affected its creator, Engerraund Serac, as a boy.

This basically means that, in the future as Westworld imagines it, human beings have no free will; they’re trapped in loops much as Dolores and her host companions were back in Westworld. That raises all kinds of interesting philosophical questions, but let’s get to the most important one: where does that name come from?

Insider did a little digging and figured that Rehoboam was a reference to the Biblical first king of Judea. In the Bible, Rehoboam is the son of Solomon, who is the son of David, who was a favorite of Saul. In the latest episode of Westworld, “Genre,” we learned that the names for earlier builds of Rehoboam were Saul, David and Solomon. Seems pretty open and shut.

However, when Insider put the question to Westworld showrunner Jonathan Nolan, he had a different take. “Well I spent nine years in Catholic school, but I’m ashamed to say it has actually nothing to do with the biblical reference,” he said. “It’s an homage to a book called Stand on Zanzibar, which is a seminal piece of science fiction. It’s an absolutely terrific and frightening book.”

Published in 1968, John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar is set in a dystopian future “where society is squeezed into hive-living madness by god-like mega computers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs, and mundane uses of genetic engineering.”

Yep, that definitely sounds like it inspired Westworld season 3, although the evil supercomputer in that book had a different name. “That was a period in science fiction when we’d got out of utopian science fiction and into much more frightening imaginings about where the world might take us,” Nolan said. “And in that book there is an AI owned by the General Technics corporation called Shalmaneser.”

"Shalmaneser is literally in the lobby of the General Technics incorporation — an idea that I love. And that’s the reason why Rehoboam is in the lobby of Incite. It has this delicious subversive idea to it — that they would put this thing in full display, that they would put it right there…So much of what [companies like] Google or Facebook does is in part hidden by design, because it requires thousands of diesel generators or a hydroelectric plant. All of that hardware is out of sight…With the advent of quantum computing — and Rehoboam is a quantum computer — we will come to a moment where you don’t hide the hardware anymore. This is just good PR. You put it front and center and you let school kids literally walk around it, right? Because that doesn’t mean f—— anything…You could look at this thing and say, ‘Look, here it is in the lobby of our building. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s right there,'” Nolan said. “What it’s doing, however, is something that only a handful of human beings might even understand."

Now, just to be clear, I think Nolan is saying that the inspiration for what Rehoboam does is inspired by Stand on Zanzibar. The name itself is most definitely a reference to the king/Biblical figure; it lines up too perfectly. In Brunner’s novel, Shalmaneser is a reference to Shalmaneser V, a king of Assyria and Babylon in the eighth century. It looks like Westworld picked up that book’s penchant for naming supercomputers after ancient kings.

In any case, if Westworld season 3 was inspired by Stand on Zanzibar, can that book tell us anything about how the season will end? “In Stand on Zanzibar things do not end well for most folks,” Nolan said. “But they do [end] OK for Shalmaneser.”

Next. Westworld: “Genre” is a strange trip that packs an emotional punch. dark

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