Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 29 June 2019
Welcome to the present, where we’re listening to a gig-theatre/TED Talk about the future. Specifically, Little Bulb has drawn on research from the finest minds in science, mathematics and philosophy to look at the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the impact it could have on us. Will it lead to utopia for the human race, or will we be driven to extinction?
Despite the serious question that drives this piece, it is bandied about with gleeful nihilism. Optimism underpins up-beat, poppy electronica numbers that intersperse scenes considering various aspects of AI. It is hosted by the smooth-talking and charismatic Marina (Clare Beresford), who is accompanied by three stereotypical geeks (Dominic Conway, Eugénie Pastor and Shamira Turner) who are clad in black with towering, tin foil spikes protruding from their heads. This comedic portrayal somewhat undermines the gravity of the issue – but at the same time, we’re already on a collision course with extinction from human activity, so we may as well mock ourselves for our determination to destroy ourselves.
The TED Talk format gives the show a helpful framework, with the music breaking up lengthy blocks of text, but it is also limiting. A scene that initially seems to occur outside of the lecture format provides a welcome glimpse of the personalities behind the dense, academic theory, but it is singular and brief. How do these people feel about the prospect of AI eventually surpassing the capabilities of their human makers? We never find out.
The show ends abruptly and gives the sense that it’s still developing, but it’s otherwise confident and cohesive. It’s also quite fun and funny, with some great tunes, making this another strong production from Little Bulb.