We are on the verge of creating artificial intelligence greater than our own. What questions do we want to ask it?
We have already created computers and robots that can understand every written language. What do we want to we talk about?
In the year 2187, after the destructive effects of an AI arms race and detrimental effects of climate change, the world a waste. We set our story in one surviving human community, the Haven, in which empathy is worshipped as the highest and defining human value and dependency on technology is despised. The remaining AI constructs are hated and feared, but must be kept operational for their ability of recycling toxic air into breathable Oxygen. IDIOM is a conscious AI, who upsets this balance of power by exhibiting human level empathy.
She attempts to find an equal in Franz, an over curious and recently exiled robotics-mechanist. As they are both relentlessly persecuted by the human leaders, they are confronted with many of the same questions we are currently faced with about our desire to create artificial intelligence.
Do we desire to create a self portrait, to better understand ourselves?
Do we want a servant, a friend or a god? Can we allow our creation to become an equal whom we can trust?
“IDIOM” digs deeply into the various cracks in our human condition, and delves into some of the most complex questions facing us about our future with AI today.
The show is an interdisciplinary feat combining exquisite acrobatics and sci-fi theatre with visually striking design and intimate storytelling. With a cast bringing diverse skills from dance, performance art, theatre, acrobatics, to drag, and a state of the art design team creating silicone prosthetic costuming and immersive light and projection experiences, we aspire to bring the conversation about Artificial Intelligence to the next level.
What happens when we bring sci-fi out of the cinema and into the intimate space of the theatre?
What if we stop talking about our fear of AI-dominion and start exploring their potential for humanity? Can we learn something about ourselves by learning about new kinds of intelligence and empathy?
We want to know.
“IDIOM” is a collaborative acro-theatre project between James Kingsford Smith and Zoe Karina Lohmann. Its aim is to ask the pressing and relevant questions facing us about our future, and bring these into a performative art context for a wide audience.
The show is built on the basis of a two act theatre format with a twenty minute intermission. “IDIOM” follows a literal narrative with a 5-person cast, inter-weaving modern dance, acrobatics and live electronically manipulated vocal performance with tragic theatre. The cast of characters is as follows:
IDIOM: A sentient and empathetic AI construct created in the year 2035. 153 years old, Gender neutral, female presenting.
FRANZ: An over-tech-curious and recently exiled mechanic. Early 30s, male.
MARTIN: A committed follower of tech hating society, good friend to Franz. Early 30s, male.
THE ENTANGLED: Two sisters with a secret, made inseparable by a bond of empathic-synesthesia, the leaders of the society. Mid 20s, Female.
The design aesthetic for the world and costumes will combine the leftovers of our not so distant future and a sense of the shambles left by world wide destruction and climate change. IDIOM herself will look in this future world like an anachronistic relic of a time when bio-tech design was en-vogue. The human characters will be dressed to survive in the unnamed desert environment. Lighting will flow between realistic interior and exterior settings, and dreamlike moods when we enter personal and introspective moments with characters and during intimate scenes. We allow a bending of reality and time especially when entering IDIOM’s consciousness and moments of extreme human emotion.
The audience will be traditionally seated, including accessible seating for disabled, and will be at times in the role of the “people” implied by the Haven society at large, and will at other times find themselves in the role of silent observer, bearing witness to the inevitability of the human condition.
After each show we want to offer a talk back session with any audience that wants to stay, in order to encourage questions and discussion on the topics brought up in the show.
For our production period and opening season we are partnering with the Pfefferberg Theatre in Berlin. The show will open on February 3rd 2019 after two previews and run for a total of 8 shows at the Pfefferberg until February 10th. After this we have strong opportunities to tour the show in the UK and Europe.
Why Science Fiction?
„For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.“ - Carl Sagan, Contact, 1985
We thoroughly believe that this type of work is crucially important in our current moment. Never before have we been so close to creating new, independent sentience, and having to find answer to what kind of future we want to build with them. We believe the level of public conversation on the topic of AI regarding politics, economics, military interests and ethics has jumped the gun on a few very important questions to which nobody seems to have a clear answer.
Where did the desire to build AI come from?
Why do we think we need to create artificial versions of ourselves?
What is to be achieved?
Certainly, on a superficial level we can rationalize that intelligences smarter than ourselves could solve problems we have struggled with for too long, such as discovering the cure for cancer or building more complex economic models, even to build more realistic sex robots. But why do we have a fascination with creating “true” consciousness? The ability to feel free and self determined as an individual? To dream, create art work, to lie, feel happiness, pain, loneliness and sexual attraction, even love? Why do we feel we need to artificially contrive the very things we define as exclusively human?
In todays first world we are already in an irreversible co-dependency with technology and intelligent algorithms. They run our banks, our businesses, communication, our social interactions and even influence our sexual behavior. We cannot live in a globalized world without it. At the same time, we hate technology. We are already nostalgic for the “good old days” when we still had land line phones, sent snail mail, and didn’t run around glued to our smart phones and devices. Simultaneously we are enthralled by technological advancements. 3D printing has taken industries by storm, we can’t wait until the newest iPhone is out, we’re desperate for a perfect personal assistant that will know us so well that our lives will become easier, more efficient and more pleasurable than ever before. We have however also seen Terminator and the slew of sensationalist Hollywood films, and are, not without reason, horrified at the prospect of an AI becoming smarter and stronger than us, should we ever lose control. We are dependent on and in love with something we hate and are terrified of. This is such an incredible paradox, but we run blindly on, with a childlike fascination, continuing the attempt to build this technology just to see if we can.
In our future setting, the Haven, we attempt to simplify this relationship by assuming a hypothetical outcome of the current moment. The world as we know it has been largely destroyed by a combination of human ambition and negligence, aided by ever more powerful technology. The hatred the people have developed towards their continued dependence on technology to survive is a coping mechanism; it is easier to demonize AI as an evil temptress than to acknowledge that humans have a habit of creating their own downfall. In the middle of this polarized world, IDIOM tries to find her place. She is older than any human surrounding her, and is in fact the only true witness to the events. The irony is that while she has all of the information the humans lack to create an informed opinion, the mystery at the forefront of her mind is why she was created in the first place. She was built to store every piece of information ever published on the internet, but it is forbidden for anyone to speak to her. She was given the ability to emote, have free thought, and experience sensory stimuli, but is used as nothing more than an enslaved air conditioner. She can empathize and may be able to love, but the only person brave enough to attempt a friendship with her is severely punished and exiled.
Through the eyes of her character a mirror is held up to us. Why would we create something equal to us if we’re already prepared to enslave it? Why would we create artificial love if we’re already prepared to hate it? Why would we create new life, if we already wish to kill it and be free from it? By creating a world that is removed enough to look at our world as we know it now with some distance, we hope to create an opportunity to observe ourselves a little more critically and objectively. Perhaps we can learn about human beings before we blindly create a new form of life altogether.
“Dance! Dance! Otherwise we are lost.” - Pina Bausch
We are dealing with many heavy topics, philosophical and theoretical questions. How can we make these accessible to an audience that may not yet be interested in the AI discussion?
The reason we believe many people do not feel included in the ongoing conversation about AI is that it has not been made particularly accessible. Those of us who are naturally interested can inform themselves with the literature that is available or watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster on the subject. This leaves us stuck between scientific and sometimes dry analytical texts, and over sensationalised action films, which mostly fall into the trap of glorifying liberalist humanity over whatever robot is being cast as the antagonist. There is very little accessible material that operates on levels of critical analysis, asking the right questions, and remains engaging, concise, entertaining, and stimulating.
We hope to strike this balance and attack the questions we are dealing with on several different levels. The mixture of traditional theatre and extreme modes of movement will help us navigate the space between highly conceptual content and deeply emotional conflicts. The juxtaposition between the rather traditional style of tragic theatre and the incredibly emotional and activated experience of dance and acrobatics seems only appropriate to marry a topic so disparate between scientific analysis and intense feelings, desires and fears. Hopefully people will find themselves represented in the narrative, and be able to connect to what they see. We want to pose poignant questions and arguments in the dialogues, and marry them with intense emotional and sensory experiences that we may not be able to put into words. Composed text vs. intuitive movement; Intellectual vs. emotional; rational vs. irrational; Computers vs. Humans.
After all that I'm sure you want to know where your money is going! Never fear. Here is the breakdown of what the IDIOM Budget looks like.
This campaign is designed expressly to pay for the creation of the show, that is, all the design elements and artist fees that will go into our costumes, sets, lights, props, sound, and projection design. The 10,000€ we will get from this campaign (after Kickstarter's fees, Bank fees, and processing fees) accounts for 21% of the total budget for the show.
10,000€ is our set goal to ensure this campaign is successful, but we hope to overshoot the runway! Help us pay our artists more and allow us to get more exciting equipment and possibilities to build the show further! Incase we manage to get more than the goal, we have this break down to show how the money would be spent.
We know these numbers look like a lot of money - how can 10,000€ be considered a SMALL budget?! But if you think about how much time will be invested in the design and creation of each of these elements, for which we are hoping to pay people fairly, things add up very quickly. Here are some notes on each of the creation areas.
This show has a cast of 5 performers. At the baseline of 2000€ for the costume budget we're looking at 400€ per costume. This needs to include material expenses, first and second drafts, design work, and fittings at a decent hourly wage for our costume designer. Considering how durable and well crafted these costumes will need to be to survive an intense acrobatic show this is no easy feat!
Lights are what create the atmosphere of the show. They sets the mood, define the spaces we are moving in, and bring a set to life. IDIOM will be a complex show with several different settings and will require more than a natural whitewash! On top of the design and lighting concept, a show of this proportion may require hundreds of lighting cues each of which need to be individually programmed, focused, installed and hung by qualified technicians.
The set is the show's living room, playground and battlefield. This is how we carve out the empty space of the blank theatre and bring our world to life! We want to design a set for IDIOM that is visually striking, gives us the opportunities our actors will need to exploit the full potential of the stage at the Pfefferberg, and is simple and modular enough to be taken on tour. This is no easy feat! Material expenses for set projects add up very quickly, and each element will need to be built with design and expertise to be safe for such a physically intense show. On top of that, we need to invest in professional fire proofing standards to make sure our sets will be safe and legal in every way.
In order to bring you state of the art acrobatics, we will need state of the art equipment. Our cast are of course professionals, so each of us has a lot of their own gear, but this show will call for a specific aesthetic and some special alterations to standard equipment! We will need to acquire the specific items required for our aerial choreographies and floor work, that can be optimised to become part of the world of IDIOM.
Projection Design is a theatrical art form that has taken the world of performing arts by storm over the last decade, and it is a tool we are eager to embrace for IDIOM. We have the opportunity to work with specialised projection Designers in Berlin that create smart and changeable algorithms that can allow us a window into the mind of an AI and could help us imagine the soul of a computer. Projection mapping will be a key design element of the show and is what can allow us to transcend the black box of the stage into IDIOM's world. We will need to acquire powerful projectors and create a complex set of programs for an intense visual experience.
Sound design, much like film music, is the heart and soul of a piece of theatre. We are living in Berlin, one of the greatest music hubs in the world, and we want to engage this local talent in our production. We want to seize the opportunity to hire musicians for original compositions and to create a soundscape that will pull through the entirety of the show! If you've ever heard the phrase "A minute on stage can feel like a lifetime" - how hard do you think it will be to create two hours of uninterrupted soundtrack, each minute of which will be specified to the moment in the show, and cued live every night?! We want IDIOM to sound like the present and the future, and we want to hire up and coming composers to help us do it!
What about the other 79%?
Yes, this campaign is only supposed to fund 21% of the total budget for the show. This of course begs the question "Where will the other 79% come from?" This is a very valid concern! Of course you don't want to give your money now so we can buy a bunch of fancy outfits, only to find out we've run out of money by January 1st and can't finish the project. We assure you, this will not happen.
It is true that we are still fundraising in other places and funding bodies for the rest of the budget. However, you can be assured that once we get this Crowdfunding boost, the show will happen no matter what. We have already secured enough funds from sponsorhips to make sure our cast gets paid at least a base rate for the rehearsal time in December and January. Although we have applied to many funding bodies in Germany and the UK and are hopeful that we will receive help there, we are also prepared to take out a loan or dig into our savings to make up for the rest of the space rentals and administration fees. Have no fear! If we can make this campaign, we can build this show!
Thank you for your time, and see you in February!
Risks and challenges
This project is an experimental theatre, circus sci-fi narrative so it comes with many artistic and practical risks and challenges. This is okay because in the circus we specialize in assessing dangers and finding safe and creative solutions!
To combat the financial risks in the projects we have 4 different budgets depending on what funding we attain and how generously our crowds contribute. The project has these 4 levels so we know which one to go ahead with before we begin creation. We will have all information on which plan to go ahead with by November so we can clearly go through the pre-production phase before creation starts in December.
The artistic risks are being prepared for by conducting acrobatic theatre workshops on the specific performance style for Idiom throughout the year. James Kingsford-Smith has been conducting these workshops (called Acrobatic Pathways) in Sydney, Berlin and Montreal thought 2018 and the research is proving fruitful and really exciting!
The physical risks in the show are being managed by bringing on a great team of professionals who all know their craft and know how to work in ensemble environments. We have a rigger on hand through out the entire creation. We will train in safe and established training spaces. We will also have a stage manager with us throughout the creation and backstage during the performances to ensure that the communication and scheduling of the project is feasible, safe and nurturing of a creative environment.
We have an amazing project manager, Achus Emeis, who will be taking charge of communication with the theatre and the marketing and press so the artist are free to create great work! We have an amazing lighting designer, Hartley Kemp (with over 20 years in the industry) to create great aesthetics for the show as well trouble shoot any dangers or technical challenges the we experience along the journey.
Finally we have an incredible director and dramaturge with us in December, January and February to ensure the work is rich, robust and of standard befitting the stage. Andrew Kingsford-Smith is an established director and dramaturge who has taken work to Holland, France and the West End in London!
Risk assessments will also be made for all spaces we create in including the Pfefferberg theatre. In addition we have public liability up to $20,000,000 incase any unforeseen accidents occur.
We are well planned, prepared and prepped for all the unexpected challenges that normally befall live arts. Now all we need is the funds in order to ensure that everyone is paid and all equipment is made safely and professionally.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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