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The Future is coming whether we like it or not… by Clare Beresford, Little Bulb

When Alex (Scott), our director, started asking me what I thought about the future and about Artificial Intelligence, even just talking about it filled me with dread.  I feel like I was born in the wrong decade as it is – I prefer to handwrite things rather than type, I always cycle or walk somewhere over getting transport, and I carry around several (usually very heavy) books over a Kindle - I even prefer to hand whisk things over using a blender! In short, I’m pretty much one of the most time/labour inefficient people you‘re ever likely to meet.

Yet saying all this, in actuality I use technology almost as much as the next person, and rely on it far more than I’d like to admit.  I‘m currently writing this on a Macbook, while intermittently using (a.k.a. procrastinating on social media with) my iPhone. Between them, they contain all the names and contact details of everyone I know, numerous to do lists, project ideas, song lyrics, unfinished compositions, recordings, notes, thoughts, hopes and words I’ve written in the past decade. Factor in their internet connection, and I have every piece of information publically available on the planet - all at my fingertips. Magic, no? What more could I want?

In spite of my seeming aversion to technological developments, they happen anyway and become a huge part of my life whether I like it or not.  But what does that mean when it comes to Artificial Intelligence?  How close are we to inventing a machine more intelligent than humans?  And what does that mean for the future of mankind?  It is exactly these questions that form the basis of our new show, The Future, which also wonders why we’re barely talking about these issues in our day-to-day lives when their impact will be so monumental  - perhaps catastrophic!

Centred around four characters (three scientists/philosophers and one artist), the show fluctuates between a TEDtalk, an alternative rock gig and a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the life and foibles of the characters involved.  Its premise is to explain the current, often complex ideas about the future of AI but crucially, under the influence of the artist character, present them in a more accessible format.  Cue catchy songs about Computational Physics, four-part harmony warning signals, darkly comic ‘what if’ scenes about killer robots and interpretive dances about the beginning of the creation.  The idea being that if we want to get everyone talking about the future, we can't limit ourselves to the world of academia - we must look to art, music and entertainment to help us.  

And I can wholeheartedly say that as a self-confessed technophobe, it’s been a genuinely enlightening joy to work on this show.  Not least because it’s made me look at a subject I was actively avoiding, and it’s made me think completely differently about it.  I love it when researching a subject forces you to question your own beliefs and what those beliefs are based on. In my case, that basis just seems to be a general love of slow, organic human effort.  But what researching the show has made me see is that the very creation of these machines is thanks to slow, organic human effort.  What we are capable of is mind-blowing, but it is also completely natural. In fact, it would be actively going against human nature to try and stop progress. The only difference now is that the stakes are so much higher - so it's crucial we invest time and thought into getting it right.

Our show asks people to think about what ‘getting it right’ looks like, it asks them to consider what values they hold dear, and what they think is important about this powerful, new technology.  

It isn’t trying to convert people like me into becoming AI advocates, or even draw a conclusion about whether AI is a ‘good’ thing. But it does ask people to engage in the discussion, and hopefully it makes them feel included and perhaps even empowered have an opinion about it.  And yet, as is true of all Little Bulb shows, though it is done with a huge amount of love and respect for the subject matter, it is also done with an enormous amount of irreverence.  Keeping a sense of humour is crucial to approaching any subject, especially one as dense and complicated as AI. Whatever your thoughts about the future are, let us take you there so you can see for yourself.

Little Bulb Theatre
The Future
12 - 29 June
Battsersea Arts Centre
Info and tickets: bac.org.uk

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