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Swedish TV series explores human-robot divide

STOCKHOLM -- He has no special interest in science fiction, but the creator of a Swedish sci-fi drama that pits robots against humans has struck a nerve among viewers.

“Real Humans,” by screenwriter-actor Lars Lundstroem, stars humanoids called “hubots,” a word mixing humans and robots. They are merchandise, bought and sold, run on electricity, but can think, make choices, have sex with humans, even fight for their own freedom and rights.

Their owners want to keep them in their place as docile, high-tech consumer products, be it servants, workers, sex partners, even replacements for lost family members.

Other people, a political movement called “Real Humans,” feel all has gone too far. They want to return to a society without hubots.

For Lundstroem, “the main premise in 'Real Humans' is: what is a human being?”

The lines between real and robot are deliberately blurred to ask: is it possible to build a human? What is a soul? Are we just some kind of biological machines?

“It is a tough question to answer, almost impossible, and it is very rare we are confronted with questions about the kind of creatures we are,” he told AFP.

The series, set in a parallel, modern-day Sweden, came out in 2012 and was quickly bought up in more than 50 countries from France to South Korea to Australia.

It also caught the eye of American xBox Entertainment Studios and Britain's Channel 4 who are developing an English-language adaptation called “Humans” set to premier in 2015, according to the entertainment bible Variety.

Lundstroem cannot even remember how he came up with the idea.

“Maybe it was after seeing one of those human-like robots they have made in Japan, but I really don't know,” he told AFP.

“I just thought it was a great starting point for a drama series, something that could generate a lot of story.”

The show is chock full of action, intrigue and romance: programmers breaching legal protocols to make the hubots even more human-like, others — derided as “hubbies” — breaking taboos on having sex with hubots.

Lundstroem's plots are less science-driven than metaphors for contemporary social issues — prejudice, minorities, immigration, slavery, relationships.

It's been described as everything from creepy to startling to superb sci-fi.

“This Swedish show about an abducted sex robot is creepy as hell,” sci-fi expert Charlie Jane Anders said in December 2012, adding that it was both “beautiful” and “disturbing looking.”

Some critics have said that what makes the series scary is that the hubots are so similar to human beings.

In the show, household robot Mimi almost becomes a new member of the Engman family.

While the son falls in love with her, his sister starts to fear that the mother likes Mimi better than her.

“One reason why people could find the show scary is that it presents a future where robots are so similar to humans that they could end up replacing people,” Swedish TV critic Rosemari Soedergren said.

“People have always had some kind of fear and suspicion about technology and machines.”

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Lars Lundstrom, creator of the Swedish drama “Real Humans,” poses at the Swedish Institute in Paris on April 10. (AFP)

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