What your computer can learn about you from your web searches and your reliance on Google Translate (despite your “fluency” in German), down to the porn you watch, makes for a startling possibility: the digital may determine our very destinies. Jenny Lee’s sophisticated play brings timely debate to the matter.
Lee plays a computer coder named Banks who works in a fast-paced corporation surrounded by investment bankers. She has created an algorithm that will predict what people will do in the most unpredictable circumstances, based on what it learns from the data on their computer. Furthermore, she has chosen herself as the guinea pig, ushering in unlikely scenarios such as indulging her co-workers’ ‘dress-down Fridays’ and attending a school reunion.
Lee’s delivery is swift and apathetic, as if freshly typed from her sharp fingertips. Yet, there are signs of social withdrawal behind Banks’s tough posturing. The only people she feels she can confide the algorithm’s results to are a group of anonymous coders on an online forum.
Tautly directed by Valentina Ceschi, this tech-savvy monologue actually takes an analogue approach, with Lee barely moving from her spot while effective lighting take us between her online and offline worlds. The sophisticated script has consciousness-led passages through London life in pen strokes close to Virginia Woolf.
However, the algorithm’s results become too much to handle, and Banks tries to rail against the hold of the computer over individual fate. But where Lee’s play takes advantage of the steaming pace of a psychological thriller, it’s ultimately a poetic paean to offline life, to the possibilities that the digital cannot register. In gathering the anonymous coders of the forum for a touching finale, there is a sense of shyly made but new connections. An outcome that wasn’t written in lines of code.
Heartbeats & Algorithms runs at Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33) until 31 August. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.