by Melee Hutton
Working on Faster Than Night
has been a literal education for me. Not just in the field of social
media, where my knowledge hovers somewhere around my own Facebook page
and not much more, but also in the world of artificial intelligence.
a quantum A.I is flattering but daunting. Along with it come actor
questions I’ve never asked before, but perhaps will ask more often in
“Can I feel?” I've asked our director, Alison
Humphrey. “Is guilt something I know?” “Do I have a sense of humour?”
Questions I take for granted when playing a human have become charged
for me. “How much can I feel it?” “How do I get to feel it?” “Can I do anything that Caleb hasn't programmed me to do?”
so I have spent the last few weeks contemplating, “what ultimately
makes us human?”. I've written down words as they come to me in
rehearsal, such as Humility, Humour, Love, Guilt, Regret, Defiance,
Rebellion, Trust, Imagination, and Grace. If an animal can feel them, is
it possible that in time computers will too, or will some things remain
impossible to create outside of the human condition?
Faster Than Night
is set fifty years into our future, and ISMEE stands for Interactive
Socially-Mediated Empathy Engine. Once Caleb invented me, my empathetic
abilities made him a multi-billionaire. I am many things for him: the
source of all answers, the predictor of odds, a surrogate mother figure,
the connector of humanity to one another.
But who is ISMEE to
herself? Alison asked me one day in rehearsal, “What does ISMEE want?”
In a thirty-year career as an actor, that question has never stumped me
before. “Wow,” I thought, “this isn't going to be simple.”
look at the world through artificial intelligence, what are we hoping
to see? That we are different, or that we are the same? This led me to
think about theatre and our contribution. Perhaps our interest in A.I.s
is driven by the need to see ourselves in relation to the
universe – we need to know that we are not alone, we need to know that
we are capable of creation that is so imaginative that we can’t tell the
difference between it and reality. That we, as a species, can recreate
ourselves even as we destroy ourselves, and that our imaginary friends
can exist in 3D into our adulthood.
That, in a nutshell, is why I
work in theatre. I’m grateful to ISMEE for making me rethink things to
which I was sure I already knew the answers.