One of the big questions that keeps being raised when rating the impact technology has on our lives is whether it destroys our capability for empathy. Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – is one of the traits that make us human. But the longer we spend our lives face-planting a screen, searching for the next tech-fix, the higher the risk of us losing our connection to other people, some might argue.
SPID Theatre invites us to test our humanity when dealing with the possibility of future technology with i.Am 4.0 at the Bush Theatre. We’re invited to playtest the newest ground-breaking tech wonder in the safety of an experiment room, after being morally tested in a room next door. Yes, you get tested on how moral you are as a person. Then being allocated a group for the hour the experiment lasts, you are asked to work as a team and compete against others in testing the product of the future – i.Ams, or the equivalent of a humanised, bio-grown Siri. If you don’t like immersive theatre where you drive the narrative… well, then this is probably pretty terrifying to you. We’re introduced to the i.Ams, impressively synchronised by three actresses. The audience controls the bio-robots completely – we give them names, accents, outfits and personality traits. The actors manage to drive the experiment forward with humour and precision, and even the experimenters are immersed in the make-believe of these i.Ams despite the various ridiculous things the audience put them through.
Controlling the actors and putting them through tasks to earn group points challenges the audience – you quickly realise you’ve been put in groups of people with very different moral codes to yourself, and arguments start to arise. It’s no longer a performance about the possibility of the technology of the near-future; it’s an experiment on human empathy and whether we choose to act or ignore when someone’s being treated unfairly. You quickly bond with your i.Am but the question is, are you ready to sacrifice its safety for your own gains or would you care for it as a human being? Are you happy to inflict pain on someone if it’s for your own benefit, and if you think it’s just a thing?
Creators Mel Cook and Helena Thompson have made i.Am 4.0 an interesting thought-experiment that encourages teambuilding and absolute engagement from its audience. It’s an entertaining and different experience, though perhaps a little too loose in narrative to call it theatrical. Being slightly scared of immersive theatre it certainly made my theatre-brain twitch. That said, it certainly knows how to engage an audience, and if you like to be the centre of an experience and want some food for thought, i.Am 4.0 is a great place to start.
i.Am 4.0 is also playing at the Southwark Playhouse August 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, and at the Park Theatre August 25, 26. For tickets and more information click here.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz