“You will be required to do
wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of
life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some
time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the
ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse
at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Don’t Date Androids is an interactive performance piece written by Stefan Alderson and Directed by Devon Nuku running at the immaculately renovated BATS Heyday dome until 30 June. I dubbed it a combination of Bladerunner and Tinder as it deals with a case of a fateful relationship between a human Wellington office worker and an android girlfriend.
The play is timely in its’ exploration of highly topical ethical and legal issues around the place of AI life forms in human society. A number of successful TV shows have dealt with similar issues recently – Westworld, BBC’s Humans, Altered Carbon. This year also saw the sequel of the original android sci-fi epic Bladerunner. The name of this play is perhaps a nod to the title of the book by Philip K Dick – Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? on which Bladerunner was based.
It is perhaps unsurprising that we appear to have developed a collective fascination with androids and AI lifeforms in popular culture fiction, given the current rapid and unregulated trajectory of technology such as AI in the real world. It is certainly worth considering worst-case scenarios. Historian and author of bestselling Sapiens and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari is one who predicts AI will have dire consequences. He predicts in Homo Deus that smarter artificial intelligence will soon replace humans in the workplace. Not bad so far, however he continues that with those roles taken on by machines, our political and economic systems will simply stop attaching much value to human life. He also believes there is no guarantee AI will not attempt to violently overthrow humanity:
want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat
ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? Better start by
investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal
cousins. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but it is
the best archetype we can actually observe rather than just
Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Fiction such as Don’t date Androids enables us to explore such important issues and hypotheticals and provoke us to think about these potentially divisive ethical and moral issues on levels we may not otherwise. Major issues dealt with in the play are around whether androids have the same rights as humans, whether AI should always identify themselves as non-human and whether androids have the potential to be dishonest or even dangerous to humans if they feel their continued existence is threatened.
This is pretty heady stuff, and these are profound issues that could be really need discussion in the near future. However the issues are well dealt with here and enable the play to be entertaining and at times humorous whist delving into this pretty serious and dark material.
DDA makes good use of a courtroom trial as a set piece to draw out the narrative and give context of the world of 2032 Wellington in which the play takes place. This is, we are told, the first murder trial taking place under the newly passed Androids Protection Act 2032.
The courtroom setting includes Defendant Zac Thomas played by James Bayliss, his defence attorney, the prosecutor, the judge and an at times hilarious android court bailiff/stenographer. Additional witnesses are called to appear including the Police detective, the android ‘parents’ and former human flatmate of the deceased (or terminated?), a drunken and hilariously sleazy neighbour, an unashamedly pro-android expert professor, and an ex-girlfriend of the defendant.
This expansive array of characters (many played by the same small cast,) provides good material for exploring further the world of this play and delves into issues of rights of and prejudice towards androids and how they fit into society.
The Acting was of a great standard generally, with only the odd fluffed line breaking the spell, which can be expected early in a run. Ivana Palezevic stood out as the prosecution lawyer and Bayliss is convincingly exasperated and distressed as the defendant facing a murder prosecution. The drunken neighbour was almost too convincing but superbly executed.
An interesting innovation is that the audience members are addressed as the jury throughout the entire play with the judge and others addressing us as such without breaking the fourth wall. This even extends to the chance to vote on the verdict at the end, which is a great touch.
Without giving away too much, apparently the resulting verdict has been different most nights so this shows excellent writing to leave elements of doubt and plenty of room for debate.
I definitely recommend this as an enjoyable, humorous and thought-provoking piece of entertainment.
Here is the iconic scene from Bladerunner where we get a first glimpse of the psychotic nature of the ‘replicants’ as one doesn't take kindly to the bizarre questions posed to him by the so-called Voight Kampff test to determine whether he is an AI.