iAm 4.0, starts with audience members being taken into partitioned rooms. The interactive game, by S.P.I.D (Social Political Innovative Direct) Theatre, asks participants to engage as if they were a focus group.
At the start of the game we were asked a hypothetical moral question, and placed into one of three groups on the basis of our answer. Each group is given their own iAm to test out – a personal assistant, grown from human cells but enhanced with robotics, and supposedly devoid of human feeling. The iAms are described as being ‘designed to suit our needs’ and they must obey our orders, unless it involves hurting another human or iAm. My group had the iAm played by Roseanna Frascona.
We were given tasks. At first they were fairly innocuous, such as giving our iAm a name, or an accent. We named her Alexia, and gave her a northern accent, after testing a few out (I was impressed with her accents and wondered how many she actually had to learn for the role, just in case someone requests a really obscure one).
We were then told to choose clothes and dress our iAms, and I started to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of us telling it what to do. At the end of this task, we realised the groups were being given more points, the more we dehumanised our iAm.
I must admit I was a bit of a ringleader in terms of wanting Alexia to break free, and trying to find out what would make her happy (she is programmed to say whatever will make us happy). Others in my group agreed that we should start sabotaging the tasks, which was fun, and at one point we all ended up in a circle holding hands with Alexia and humming.
It was problematic that even the act of telling our iAm not to follow the tasks, was still telling her what to do, and it was frustrating that she didn’t have any free will.
I had an inner conflict between knowing that she was an actor, but also not wanting to make her do the tasks. I felt a base level reaction that I didn’t want to be complicit in the exercises, even though it was just a performance.
I was reminded of Stanley Milgram’s famous psychology experiment, which proved that people are willing to hurt others, just because someone in authority tells them to. I wanted to show that not everyone is like that, and perhaps we can learn from mistakes of the past.
One thing that stood out for me was that all the iAms were female, and I wondered whether this was a conscious choice. Perhaps it was a comment on the way women’s bodies are so often abused. It made me think of a podcast I listened to recently, about the fact we may not be too far away from having female sex robots, which are under criticism for the way they perpetuate the idea of objectifying women.
I don’t know whether any of the past productions have used male iAms, and if they did I would be interested to see if audiences reacted differently to that. I think the fact that Alexia was female, made me even more unwilling to treat her as an object, and perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so bad if it was a male.
I would have liked a bit more analysis at the end, on whether the way each group answered the initial moral question, affected the way we treated our iAms. However, this was not referred to again, so didn’t seem relevant.
The acting standard was high – Roseanna Frascona was absolutely brilliant throughout the show, adapting flawlessly to everything that was happening. Not once did she break character, despite the surrealness of the situation. From what I could see the other iAm actors were just as versatile. I also particularly enjoyed watching the co-creator of the show, Mel Cook, as Dr Max, as she was suitably authoritative and menacing.
iAm 4.0 is such an interesting piece, like nothing I have ever seen before. The interactive nature of the show made it such a personal experience, and it certainly opens up a range of moral and philosophical questions. I hope that we never get to a point, where it is commonplace to use robots that look like humans, or human robot hybrids to do things for us in society. Sometimes technology needs to stop where it is.
iAm 4.0 is currently on tour at various locations across London.