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The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Fox's A.I. Drama neXt - Exclusive

The idea behind neXt, Fox's new drama about a rogue artificial intelligence (AI), originated with an Alexa. "We have four Alexas in the house," says Manny Coto, the show's creator and executive producer. "I have four kids, and every one of them has their own and they love them." Then, a few years ago, his son looked tired one morning. When asked why, he told his father that Alexa started talking, unprompted, at around 2 or 3 AM.

Some time later, his son had a sleepover. "They were all up at 3:00 AM, yelling and screaming," he recalls. "I barged in with the usual, 'Do you guys know what time it is?' kind of thing. And they're like, 'Hey Dad, it was the Alexa. It started talking again.'" Whether that was true or just an excuse, it resonated with Coto and he held onto it.

This, he told Looper in an exclusive interview, was the genesis of neXt. He likened his son's experience to "a classic ghost story." It's just a modern version of, in his words, having a father, "Move into a house, they walk by the corridor and he hears his daughter or son talking to somebody, opens the door and there's nobody there." Coto thought it was an intriguing idea and, "Tucked it away." What inspired him even more, however, was the ongoing debate about AI.

neXt's AI: Too artificial and too intelligent

Not long after the Alexa incident, names like Elon Musk started raising flags about the dangers of AI. "I've always been intrigued with this concept," says Coto. He read up on the subject, with many sources suggesting to him that, "We might be getting close to developing what's called AGI, which is artificial general intelligence." This is different from the AI we encounter in our daily lives — it can think like a living being. Coto found that many scientists and theorists figure that once AGI is out there, "You are almost certainly on the road to something that will become a lot smarter than us."

"The danger is not so much that an AI becomes conscious or that an AI becomes self-aware," says Coto. "That's all kinds of philosophical terminology, which is really not that important." The danger is that something programmed to get smarter will rewrite its code until it's more intelligent than the humans who created it. One book Coto read gave an "outlandish" example, but one that proves the point: "An AI is programmed to make paper clips, but that AI becomes super intelligent and it ended up converting the entire universe into paperclips because we just simply are not smart enough to stop it."

neXt, as such, tells the story of the titular AI, which can rewrite its code and become smarter and more efficient with every rewrite, and the humans tasked with stopping it. What's scary about the neXt AI is that, in Coto's estimation, "It's just simply following its programming, but in doing that, it could ultimately accidentally destroy the race." It's not making paper clips — it's far more precise and destructive, and it's up to the system's own creator and the people he trusts to stop it.

Catch the premiere of neXt on Fox on Tuesday, October 6th at 9 PM/8 Central, and stay tuned to Looper over the next few weeks for more behind-the-scenes info.