For its 35th year, the Vancouver Fringe Festival has once again delivered performance art that is uniquely zany, thought provoking and full of surprises. If you ever wanted to play a character in a live performance from the comfort of your seat, AI Love You is the show for you.
British actors Peter Dewhurst and Fiona Hardy portray Adam and April, a relatively vanilla couple with one key distinction – April is a robot, programmed to fulfill Adam’s needs for romantic partnership. But the prototype pairing only works for three years, after which Aprils system starts to glitch. Suddenly, the seemingly sentient robot being wants to free herself from pain and suffering. Unable to bear life without April, Adam wants to keep the robot alive against her will.
Produced by games-based interactive theatre company Exit Productions and written by Melanie Ball, AI Love You is a choose-your-own-adventure play that leaves it up to the audience to decide April’s fate.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience is cast as Biolife Creative’s Ethical Steering Committee. We are tasked with voting for Adam or April as they make their emotional appeals against a lifeless, minimalist set. The plot unfolds unpredictably, with the victor of the vote winning the right to speak next. But there’s another catch – our precedent-setting decision will govern future human-AI relationships.
Dewhurst describes the show as shallow-end interactive theatre, asking the audience to be involved without being front and centre.
“It has some live and off-the-cuff bits, opportunities for the audience to ask questions and debate among themselves,” Dewhurst says, adding that it also allows the actors moments of improvisation. “I find that quite liberating because it forces you to be in the moment, you have to stay live.”
There are plenty of interest-grabbing elements to catch your attention in AI Love You. The show raises a multitude of heavy-hitting themes that make the audience’s decision difficult: Are artificially intelligent robots independent beings capable of feeling pain and love? If they have their own consciousness, do they deserve equal or lesser rights to humans, or no rights at all? What about the ethics of AI-human relationships?
Weave in the complex dynamics of mental health and end-of-life care, and we have a very challenging predicament. Where do the responsibilities of the caregiver end and the rights of the individual receiving care begin? How do we, as the Ethical Steering Committee, feel about assisted suicide?
The audience’s involvement evokes artistically inspired emotional and intellectual debates during the play, only to follow us on our journey’s home. My partner sympathized with April’s human tendencies, and felt that the rights of any form of life, human or otherwise, should be upheld. I, on the other hand, could not distinguish April apart from the corporation that made her. I didn’t feel that an artificially intelligent robot was completely freethinking and independent from the entrenched human (read: white male) bias in her coding, or from corporate interest and greed. Is there a risk that in conferring human rights to robots, we are actually granting even greater moral authority to the Googles of the world?
“It’s a play that you can watch from many different angles. Sometimes it’s a show about women’s liberation, sometimes it’s a show about AI and robotics,” Dewhurst says, advising people to be open-minded as audience members. “You may hear something that makes you want to decide right away, but don’t stop listening. There are loads of layers.”
Who wins in the end? That’s up to you. You can still catch the show at Studio 16 and have your say on September 13 or 14.