After a two-year hiatus, Westworld is back for a third season, and so far, the action takes place both in the park as well as outside in the real world. We get a glimpse of what our world might look like in the year 2058. Watching Dolores, Charlotte and Bernard navigate the future Los Angeles, London and China, I was struck by the thoughtful depiction of technology.
Shows and films often miss the mark when it comes to predicting the future — (cough) Back To The Future II (cough) — but Westworld takes a Minority Report-like approach and envisions the world populated with devices a generation or two from what we use now.
I’ve assembled a list of the most interesting gadgets from the first two episodes, and their real-world influences. If you’re looking for more Westworld, check out our Westworld season 3, episode 1 recap and breakdown, our Westworld season 3 episode 2 recap where we talk about that Game of Thrones and Jurassic Park Easter egg or our review of the first four episodes of Westworld season 3.
Note: This story originally published on March 17. But we’ll be updating this article throughout the third season of Westworld with more gadgets and technology.
Beware: Spoilers ahead.
Bernard’s sliding screen tablet
One of the iconic gadgets in the first two seasons of Westworld was the trifold tablet Bernard uses. This season, he gets an upgrade to a tablet that has a sliding display. For several years now, rollable screen TVs like LG’s have been available to purchase. And earlier this year, the Chinese company introduced a phone with a sliding display that unfurls to give you more real estate. The screen flexes around the internals of the body to make it more pocketable. But when you want to go from a smartphone to something like an iPad Mini, you slide the right edge out.
Smart pills, aka wafers
Three times in the first episode, characters digested a wafer with what looks like circuitry on it — once by Jerry before bed, another time by Caleb’s mom in a hospital bed and once by a character at a party. Electronics inside the human body aren’t anything new, but a smart pill is. And leave it to Westworld to have a pill that looks like a Communion wafer, aka a symbol for the body of Christ.
The way Jerry uses the wafer along with an app on his tablet makes me think the wafer is transmitting some kind of experience or meditation into his head.
Incite cellular network carrier
We know Incite is a data company, but it’s also a cell carrier. Several times in the first episode we see Caleb’s phone showing “Incite” where a carrier’s name would normally be. Perhaps one of the ways Incite collects data is by being a carrier. This isn’t a crazy futuristic idea — just over a year ago Motherboard discovered US carriers AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint were selling customer location data.
During CES this year, several of us from CNET attended a keynote dinner for the fictional company, hosted by HBO. Obviously this was an elaborate marketing activation. But the CES dinner indicated there might be more to Incite than just data. Take a look at the video below to hear more about Incite, how the company compares with Delos, and my experience at this crazy dinner.
Westworld season 3: Incite vs. Delos
Caleb uses a gig economy app to earn money committing crimes. In a behind-the-scenes featurette about episode 1, Jonathan Nolan, one of the show’s creators, explains that the Rico app is built on blockchain, which the government can’t track or trace, and which in the show prevents users from cheating each other. The app lets users specify the level of crime they’re interested in. For example, throughout episode 1 we see Caleb decline to commit crimes like kidnapping or murder. The apps tagline is “make money, motherfuckers.”
The app provides turn-by-turn heist directions for Caleb and two random accomplices, played by Marshawn Lynch (with the coolest light-up mood shirt) and Lena Waithe. Rico becomes a new cinematic device for showing a heist. Instead of the formulaic approach where criminals meet, plot the heist and then execute it (with things going wrong), Rico lets the viewer discover the aspects of the heist as Caleb does (and it even has a bit of a western vibe). The backpack Caleb is asked to pick up on the subway has a giant X on it, marking the spot. He robs an ATM with two other gig accomplices.
By the way, like all good apps, Rico lets Caleb rate his accomplices after they finish stealing from the ATM.
Transparent holographic projection monitor
If there is one technology that’s ambitious (as if making a robot so perfect that they pass as a human weren’t enough) it’s the transparent holographic projection screen. There are two strips of metal on a desk and when Bernard presses a button, a projected computer screen appears literally out of thin air. We’ve seen this in countless TV shows and movies like Iron Man where a screen is projected on air like a 3D holograph. Like the hover board in Back To The Future II, this seems like something we’d have in 38 years. The closest thing I’ve seen to the hologram screen is a Japanese virtual assistant that is essentially a 3D hologram of a virtual assistant in a tube named Hikari.
Marshawn Lynch’s light-up mood shirt
One of my favorite things from the first episode is the shirt Marshawn Lynch’s character wears. A series of words on the front describe moods like sad, scared, bored and angry. Whatever he feels, the word for that mood lights up white. Throughout most of the episode the word amused is lit.
Later, in a scene where he has to remove someone from a club, Lynch’s character gets punched in the face and the word angry lights up. But when the character fights back the word amused lights back up.
Though there aren’t any shirts that literally light up like this based on your feelings, there were mood rings in the ’70s, and in the ’90s Hypercolor shirts changed color depending on the wearer’s body heat.
Implants in people
We don’t actually see any implants during the show, but Francis asks Caleb if he’d consider getting his implant turned back on. The implant helps people smooth over the “rough edges.” Caleb says, “Some people need it. But for me, I guess the rough edges are the only thing I’m hanging on to.”
Implants could be used with the wafers. Fellow Westworld fan and CNET colleague Caitlin Petrakovitz suggests that the implant might be in a person’s hard palate, and that when a wafer is inserted it takes them to another place. In the case of Jerry, it was a sunset. In the case of Caleb’s mom it’s the ocean in the ceiling above her bed.
If people have implants, that might help make sense of a badass but odd moment we saw in the Delos boardroom. At one point, interim CEO Charlotte Hale presses a mute button on the table, which cuts off the words coming out of another board member’s mouth. It could be that this board member has an implant, and since Hale is in a position of higher power than he is, she’s able to control him in this environment. Plus, if any workplace would decree that their employees have implants, it would be Delos.
Muting another person talking
As mentioned above, Hale mutes a person who’s speaking. Whether or not the muted person has an implant, we see from the controls in the boardroom table that there’s some sort of noise cancellation that can be used for each person’s seat. Perhaps it works in tandem with an implant?
Obviously, noise cancellation has been used with headphones for years. Onboard mics take outside low frequencies and neutralize them before they reach your ear. It’s kind of a reverse cone of silence from Get Smart.
Another theory could be that the other board members are holograms and she’s simply muting their audio feed. I hope she actually has technology to mute someone live, because that’s so much more badass.
Bernard is working under an assumed name as a butcher in a meat plant where cow meat is grown synthetically. It’s not clear if it’s an Impossible or Beyond Burger kind of thing, where the meat is made from vegetable protein. In fact we see butchers cutting off slabs of meat from pillars that sport tubes of blood.
Lab-grown meat is an actual thing. A California-based company called Just grows cultured chicken meat that’s currently used to make chicken nuggets. But I’m pretty sure that Just doesn’t grow its chicken meat on pillars and cut it off in slabs.
Log and camera blocker
Lena Waithe’s character shows off a tiny box that looks like a portable battery charger for your phone. When turned on, it prevents people from being logged or filmed. It can also turn off police car sirens and play music over all nearby speakers and headphones. There are actually numerous camera and radio jammers you can buy to blind a camera. How effective they are is another matter.
Double in-screen fingerprint scanners
Who has two thumbs and needs to transfer a file? Jerry from Incite! Over the past few years, the dedicated fingerprint reader on our phones has moved beneath the screen, like on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. And though users of iPhone and Google Pixel phones have Face ID, I’ve never seen a tablet or phone with a double biometric like this. Who needs a password when you have two thumbs?
It’s not entirely clear if Dolores’ thumb is being scanned to receive the files onto her external drive or if she’s just holding the tablet for Jerry.
Little black dress that’s a gold gown
One of the most James Bond moments for Dolores is when she walks into a dinner party for Incite wearing a little black dress and then tugs on the top to transform it into a full length evening gown. I’d argue this is less “technology” and more along the lines of a quick change clothes artist you might see at halftime during a basketball game.
Self-parking attack motorcycle
Dolores uses a motorcycle to tail Liam Dempsey in a Porsche on his way to a meeting. When she arrives, the motorcycle parks itself. Later we see her summon the motorcycle à la Batman to have it take out a bad guy.
At CES in 2019, BMW showed off a working prototype of a self-riding motorcycle. The one Dolores had looked far cooler.
Dolores arrives at an event for the company Incite inside a self-driving Audi. The car even has suicide doors like the car from the Matrix. There are numerous self-driving cars in development and testing, but currently you aren’t going to take one solo to an event.
AI personality of Francis
Throughout episode 1, Caleb is speaking to his old Army buddy Francis over the phone. Toward the end of the episode, it’s revealed Francis is dead and Caleb is hearing an AI approximation of Francis that’s used as therapy.
In 2017, a digital avatar of Roman Mazurenko was built from old text messages and things he said when he was alive. In fact a 2013 episode of Black Mirror featured a service that keeps deceased family members alive online.
Another gadget Caleb sports is a smartwatch around his wrist. It looks similar to the Nubia Alpha smartphone, which has a flexible screen and is worn like a bracelet.
Nubia Alpha wearable smartphone review
Westworld single AirPod
Over the past two years, Apple’s wireless AirPods have become a common sight. Caleb sports a single wireless earbud on his left ear throughout the first episode. He uses it mainly to talk with Francis.
AR hologram glasses
We see Jerry conversing with a very real-looking hologram of a financial broker via his glasses. There are numerous AR glasses out there, like the Magic Leap One. But the dream is to have AR in a pair of glasses that don’t look like big bulky goggles and aren’t connected to a hard drive and battery pack. In 2019, the company Nreal took a step toward fitting AR into what looks like a pair of Oakley sunglasses.
Westworld’s Alexa is System
In Star Trek, to interact with the computer, a character would say the trigger word “computer.” Currently there are a handful of smart assistants that answer to their names, like Alexa, Siri and Bixby. I like that the characters in Westworld call their assistant “system.” It’s a nice nod to Star Trek and feels more sophisticated than “Hey, Google.”
Also notice that the control panel is made or powered by Incite. Again, this is likely another way the company is getting data on the people who use its products.