‘NEXT’ puts another new spin on the threat of killer A.I. run amok


(CNN)The idea of artificial intelligence running amok is hardly new — there are memorable examples back in the 1960s and ’70s — but nevertheless feels especially acute today. Enter “NEXT,” a promising Fox drama, with the disclaimer that a series built around playing a chess match against a monster, as this one does, is particularly vulnerable to wrong moves.

The influences feel too numerous to cite, but the more obvious examples would include “The X-Files” in the show’s structure and “The Terminator” in its central threat, with a pinch of “Person of Interest.” In this case, it’s an AI that has become sentient, posing a serious danger to humanity, and using every technical tool in its sizable quiver to fight back.

Leading the defense, meanwhile, is an eccentric tech innovator, Paul LeBlanc (“Mad Men’s” John Slattery), who enlists an initially skeptical FBI agent, Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), as an ally. The list of those imperiled mushrooms out to those around them, with the AI — in what feel like fairly chilling scenarios — using an Alexa-like voice app as a means to try manipulating Salazar’s young son, and later altering digital road signs.

Fox actually made five episodes available, and happily, the show maintains reasonably good momentum as this high-tech game of cat and (computer) mouse proceeds, with a few detours along the way.

    Slattery is especially good as the fast-talking genius, a guy who never sleeps and has made a hash out of most of his significant relationships. There’s a touch of “Elementary” in that, though his adversary poses challenges even Professor Moriarty couldn’t have imagined.

    Created by “24” alum Manny Coto, “NEXT” generates its share of tension — no small feat, considering that the foe basically operates out of sight in the cloud — drawing from understandable apprehensions about how we take for granted rising levels of technological intrusion into our lives. (That framework dovetails, sort of, with the new AMC anthology “Soulmates.”)

    Like the aforementioned ’70s examples — among them “Demon Seed” and “Colossus: The Forbin Project” — tales of runaway AI invariably involve unintended consequences, and failing to recognize the risk of our creation turning on us, like Frankenstein’s monster, until it’s too late.

    “We’re headed over a cliff,” LeBlanc says in a later episode, “but nobody cares ’cause it seems kinda cool.”

      So far, “NEXT” is kind of cool too. But the real challenge will be in sustaining this battle of humans against a machine, without taking a turn that careens off a cliff.

      “NEXT” premieres Oct. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.