iAm 4.0 at the Bush Theatre
Co-created by Mel Cook and Helena Thompson for SPID, iAm 4.0 is an interactive theatre piece that asks tough – but possibly not tough enough – questions about our relationship to technology.
This questioning takes the form of a focus group and/or team-building exercised based around testing the iAms, completely humanoid robot assistants in the style of Alexa or Siri. These “robots”, played by actresses doing some extremely commendable improvisation, are grown from human stem cells and modified to be supposedly incapable of higher cognitive function, a detail that perhaps destabilises the show’s message. Are we exploring our relationship with technology? Or is this about how our connection with technology encourages us to dehumanise others? The audience-led nature of the performance leaves questions such as this open to our interpretation and commentary from the actors leading the group is minimal, something that can feel either liberating or insufficient depending on personal taste.
The show starts with each theatre-goer being interviewed in a separate room and asked a series of multiple-choice moral dilemmas, which are the basis for the allocation of teams. This feature, rather than the modified version of a classic social psychology experiment that makes up the performance’s climax, quickly ends up being the most interesting part of the experience, not to mention the most reflective of our actual interactions with technology. How we use technology – what we like, what we retweet – is frequently a way of broadcasting our political and moral allegiances and our relationship to those who use it in other ways can often be uneasy.
The potential personhood of technology is a hot topic at the current moment, as evidenced by the success of films like Ex Machina, which means art on this subject that might have felt urgent and important a year or so ago can feel shallow now. iAm 4.0 is intended to be suitable for the entire family and so, while the failure to explore the extremely topical theme of humanoid robots and sexual consent is understandable, it still feels like a wasted opportunity, particularly since the robots are all played by women. Overall, the performance is entertaining as a series of logic puzzles and a lighthearted competition but as a means of searching the audience’s soul it falls somewhat flat.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
iAM 4.0 is at the Bush Theatre on 1st and 2nd August 2017, Southwark Playhouse from 11th until 19th August 2017 and at Park Theatre on 25th and 26th August 2017. For further information or to book visit here.