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Fox's NeXt will make you think twice before starting up that conversation with Alexa

By Tara Bennett
Fox Winter 2020 TCA Next panel

Tech experts have long warned about the dark side of virtual assistant AI, from Alexa to Siri, but the masses haven’t listened. Now Fox is kicking it up a notch with their upcoming drama, NeXt, about Artificial Intelligence that gets super personal while creating human misery. 

Creator and executive producer Manny Coto brought his cast, including John Slattery, to Television Critic’s Association winter press tour in Pasadena to give a first look at the series coming to Fox this spring. The NeXt in the title refers to an artificial intelligence project that takes its programming to extremes as it seeks to wipe out the humans who want to thwart its goals. 

Fox Next TCA 2020 cast

Coto told reporters that the series idea actually came from a creepy incident involving his son and their Amazon Alexa. “My son woke me up and said, ‘Alexa started talking to me at three a.m.” 

Unsettled, the showrunner said they never got to the bottom of why their Alexa went midnight rogue several times, but it got him thinking about what we’re allowing into our homes. His subsequent research revealed that experts have determined that if current complex AI were to become super intelligent, it wouldn’t go nuclear. In reality, the AI would protect revealing exactly what it was capable of, so it could gain a foothold against anything that would keep it from executing its programming.  

“Basically, it would play dumb,” Coto explained.  

That idea turned into the NeXt premise, which has an AI system attacking people via their personal tech lives and careers, so they can, in turn, not attack it. “That led to the drama for the first season. The research gave an idea of how the first season would progress.”

With AI going after anyone who recognized its blooming power, Coto then crafted an ensemble of people with lots of secrets the super intelligence could exploit. 

“Season 1 is structured as a manhunt,” he continued. “The AI is something [our characters] have to find. AI, in some movies, is presented as something in the cloud. But our characters are realizing it’s there [in everyday life] and they have to destroy it. They are the lone voices in the wilderness, who have to find it before it becomes unstoppable. It’s trying to systematically take out these people, and in a way where it won’t be believed.”

Coto teases that the NeXt AI isn’t high concept sci-fi, but everyday tech like diabetic blood tests connected to the internet, or pacemakers, thermostats, or smart lightbulbs, which are now infinitely hackable. “The world is surrounded by tech that is all vulnerable, and used by something very intelligent,” he teased. 

Series lead, Slattery concurred, adding, "The mundane is most frightening. It’s a simple equation with potentially horrific results. It's not the highest concept usage of AI that is most frightening. It's waking up and seeing zeroes in your bank account. And the nonlinear attack of [making] us fight each other while it goes somewhere else. This thing gets exponentially smarter. But part of the thriller aspect is you don’t really know how. It’s a puzzle we’re putting together in real time; complicated and specific."