Uncanny Valley

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan


TUCKED away inside Rob Drummond’s lively, enjoyable play for youngsters – aged 8 to 12 is the suggested age range – is a very chewy question that continues to tantalise computer scientists: can a machine exhibit the kind of intelligent behaviour that is equal, even indistinguishable, to that of a human? Has Drummond really put the Turing Test – as first posited by the late Alan Turing in 1950 – centre-stage here? Indeed he has, and quite brilliantly too, with a constant strand of audience participation leading us all towards a genuinely profound reflection of what we think it means to be human.

Ada is the uncommunicative new girl who brings her Artie, OKAY, to school, unaware that an imperious, dogmatic mayor (Kirsty Stuart) has banned all Arties – the local name for robotic devices that incorporate artificial intelligence. OKAY will be crushed unless Ada (Pamela Reid) can programme him to pass the Turing Test. This is where a genial, encouraging Drummond brings us right inside the action. Ada’s Artie – a chirrupy-voiced globe that lights up and speaks – is a beguiling chum we all hanker after, so, with our own emotions on a knife edge, there’s a helpful welter of young thoughts on how you can define "human". A moral dilemma tied into a driverless car accident – veer into oncoming traffic or mow down some children – finds one wee girl nonplussing everyone by saying “it should go backwards”. That kind of sophisticated, tangential response coloured the whole hour of this Borderline Theatre/Gaiety Theatre co-production which has had a brief run during Edinburgh’s International Science Festival. This cannily crafted show is a gift to teachers, going where many young minds are keen to explore. It should be out on tour.