Have you ever seen a wax figure or an animation of a person and it is so realistic, but it also totally creeps you out? That is the “uncanny valley” and the starting point of Nebula Company Theatre’s latest show, Down in the Uncanny Valley. In it, we meet five characters—two of whom are “organic” humans, and three of which (whom?) are humans in artificial, android bodies. We see their struggle with adapting to new bodies, the debate over “transitioning” to android bodies, and the complicated relationships between those who have transitioned and those who have not.
Writer/Director Mily Mumford explains that the show is about how human existence is threatened. While android bodies would minimize physical threats, “uploading” human consciousness into androids would change the essence of humanity.
“Many of my favourite science fiction books and films explore the lines between what would make artificial intelligence and robots ‘human’ and the potential ethics that would come into play,” Mily says. “But few have explored what it would be like to remain yourself but in a robotic shell with all of your thoughts, memories, and feelings intact.”
During a residency with Boca Del Lupo, Mily developed the idea for Down in the Uncanny Valley. While working with actors, she asked them questions like “what would you be most worried about if you became a robot?” She also researched futurist Ray Kurzweil’s concept of the “singularity”—when humans and computers merge in such a way that we are no longer recognizable. Mily also relied on her work in neurobiology. “My concentration for my master’s is in artificial intelligence systems and neurotechnology,” she explains. “So I transferred a lot of knowledge about how the brain works and how it could—in a hypothetical world—be uploaded to a digital and artificial form.”
While the show is science fiction in format, Mily is ultimately concerned with the human experience. “The show is about connection … how we connect and what might hinder connection,” she says. “It also is very intersectional in that it focuses on the experiences of people of different genders, orientations, ethnicities, and physical ability in the world. I would hope the show would prompt people to think about connecting with others, and seek to understand others regardless of these outward perceived ‘differences.’”
Down in the Uncanny Valley runs February 20-25 at Studio 16, in La Maison de la Francophonie de Vancouver, located at 1555 West 7th Ave. Buy tickets now, or purchase tickets to this show and two more and your tickets are automatically discounted to Subscription rates! Check out all the shows that are part of the Subscription here.