Why Couldn’t Devs Predict the Future?
Devs doesn’t waste a lot of time before revealing its key plot twist to viewers. Devs (or Deus, rather) is a quantum computer so advanced it can recreate reality down to individual particles. Using the rigid laws of determinism and the best algorithms tech guru money can buy, It can peer into the past with seemingly perfect accuracy and even show the future before it unfolds. The problem, however, is that Deus is unable to render the future beyond a specific point in time. The moment when a distraught Lily shoots Forest and sends their elevator pod crashing down, the future simulation crashes. Neither Forest nor Katie can figure out why this is; they only know that Lily is somehow the one x-factor Deus can’t quite account for.
As we see in the finale, that’s because Lily is the first person who makes a genuine choice and behaves in a way that contradicts Deus’ predictive algorithm. To draw a comparison to another famous sci-fi AI system, Deus is sort of like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal is programmed to assist the astronauts aboard the Discovery in their mission to Jupiter, but its NASA handlers also instruct it to complete the mission at all costs, even if it means sacrificing the astronauts. That creates a contradiction in its programming which slowly drives HAL insane. In the case of Deus, the system knows Lily should behave one way based on all the rules of determinism. But once Lily is shown how she’s going to act in the future, she chooses to act differently. Deus renders one future even as its complex intelligence comprehends that Lily seeing her future is going to change that future in ways it can’t predict. It doesn’t know how to proceed, therefore the simulation can’t progress beyond that point. Deus doesn’t know how to handle the paradox it has created.
Unfortunately for Lily, her decision to defy fate and make a choice doesn’t actually mean much in the end. Thanks to Stewart deactivating the pod, she and Forest still wind up crashing to the bottom of the Deus habitat and suffocating to death in the vacuum. Lily may have made a choice, but the future still ends up proceeding basically as Deus predicted. A lot of time travel fiction deals with the notion that the timeline is self-sustaining and will course-correct whenever something attempts to alter its flow. Time is like a river. A fallen tree may block off part of the river, but the water will simply move around the log and continue flowing in the same direction. Stewart may simply be time’s way of ensuring that the normal flow is maintained.
Life in Simulation: What Happened to Lily and Forest?
Once the series revealed to us that the Devs team had designed a reality-simulating quantum computer, it became increasingly obvious that Forest was harnessing this technology to somehow bring his dead wife and daughter back to life. At first, it wasn’t 100% clear whether Forest was somehow attempting a literal resurrection or merely preserving his family in digital form. But in the finale, his full plan is revealed.
Deus’ ability to revisit the past and predict the future turns out to be a means to a larger end. Forest needed to prove (mostly to himself) that his system is so accurate that the simulations it creates are indistinguishable from reality. That’s why he reacted so angrily to Lyndon’s “Many Worlds Theory” algorithm earlier in the season. At that point, Deus’ simulations were still fuzzy and indistinct, and only grew more so the farther back in time they went. Reality simply has too many tiny variables for the system to take into account. Lyndon’s algorithm attempted to sidestep those variables, drawing on the theory that an infinite number of parallel universes exist alongside our own, each slightly different from the next. Forest was insistent that any deviation at all from our reality means the Amaya he sees inside Deus isn’t really his daughter.
But by the end of the series, Forest no longer seems to care about this possibility. He says as much to Katie when he’s first recreated inside Deus after his death. Having just seen his death play out as planned despite Lily’s act of free will, Forest has decided that these small deviations don’t matter in the end. If the overall flow of time remains unchanged in any reality, his daughter will always be his daughter.
To be clear, the original versions of Forest and Katie are well and truly dead. The versions that now exist inside Deus are simulations based on the real people just before they died. But as far as Forest is concerned, that’s a meaningless distinction. Deus has recreated both of them down to the smallest particles. Within their new world, they’re physically and mentally indistinguishable from their real selves. Forrest didn’t resurrect his family, but instead built himself an entire, self-contained universe where they never died in the first place. Maybe this universe isn’t “real” from the perspective of the outside world, but it might as well be to anyone who exists inside the simulation.
Here the series draws on the concept of simulation theory, another popular sci-fi trope. Philosopher Nick Bostrom once argued our own universe is probably a digital simulation. The idea being that if we accept it’s possible for an advanced civilization to create a simulation so lifelike its own inhabitants believe it to be real, then those simulated people will eventually be able to create their own perfect digital simulations, and on and on. If that’s the case, then statistically the odds of our reality being the “real” one are extremely low. Who’s to say our reality isn’t like the one Forest built inside Deus? If it is, are we better off not knowing the truth?
Interestingly, Westworld: Season 3 is currently exploring many of these same ideas. Not only is Westworld also a show about the intersection of humanity and AI and the question of free will, Season 3 has introduced its own all-powerful, behavior-predicting AI named Rehoboam.
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Will There Be a Devs Season 2?
Most likely there won’t be a second season of Devs. Devs was originally announced as a limited series with a self-contained run of eight episodes. Creator/writer/director Alex Garland told Collider he hopes to reunite some of the show’s cast for a new TV project, and he’s already worked with star Sonoya Mizuno on several past projects like Annihilation and Ex Machina. But whatever that reunion project ends up being, it probably won’t be Devs: Season 2.
That’s not to say this story couldn’t theoretically be continued. The finale is a fairly open-ended one, especially where Lily is concerned. We’re left wonder exactly how she’ll come to terms with her new existence. Will she try to expose Forest? If so, how would she go about proving her reality is a simulation? Will she wind up building her own version of Devs? Some people argue the best way to test simulation theory is to build enough simulations within simulations within simulations that the entire structure becomes so enormous and memory-intensive our simulated reality finally crashes. Maybe Katie could turn Forest’s own tech against him.
There’s also the question of how the outside world might react to the existence of Deus and its simulated reality. Katie is shown striking a bargain with Senator Laine to ensure the system is allowed to keep running undisturbed. But can she really guarantee Forest’s personal utopia won’t get switched off? What if the US government or a rival tech firm decides there are better uses for the most advanced computer system in human history?
In short, there’s plenty of potential for a Devs sequel of some sort. We may not see that sequel come to pass, but surely there’s a universe where it does exist.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.