Theatre review: Uncanny Valley

Show about Artificial Intelligence prompts some real life questions

Welcome to the future and the town of Uncanny Valley, where artificial lifeforms have been banned by the Mayor. When a mute but highly intelligent teenager (she ‘does not like humans’) called Ada builds an ‘Artie’ called OKAY – ‘Outstandingly Knowledgeable Artificial Youth – the Mayor takes pity on her and allows the glowing orb the girl carries around to at least have a chance to prove its humanity by undergoing a Turing test.

Written by Rob Drummond, co-produced by Borderline Theatre and Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre, and premiered here as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Uncanny Valley is perfectly pitched as an educational piece aimed at young people, about the rise of Artificial Intelligence, which offers complex, challenging-for-all-ages moral questions.

Named after the hypothetical effect where machines designed to look human bring about an eerie sense of revulsion, the show skilfully walks the middle ground between views that AI tech is of potentially great benefit or could be highly problematic.

Pamela Reid plays Ada with a thoughtful introspection, desperately loyal to the well-realised robotic puppet OKAY as though it were either her child or her smartphone. Kirsty Stuart’s Mayor cleverly lies somewhere between concerned adult and meddling technological illiterate. Drummond himself is Ada’s teacher, and is no stranger to playing an audience to his tune on past, more ‘grown-up’ shows like Bullet Catch. Here he pauses the action and takes time to ask questions of the younger members of the audience, giving them a degree of control over which questions might define life in this internet-educated machine.

In the face of such change, we all feel as child-like as Ada, OKAY and the young audience-members who might have to ask such questions for real in adulthood.

Seen at Summerhall, Edinburgh, as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival. Run ended.

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