iAm 4.0 Exposure Review

iAm starts with each audience member being taken into a partitioned room in pairs, and asked a moral question. For me it was the hypothetical scenario of my brother confiding in me that he is having an affair, and then whether I would tell his wife or not. There were three options – keeping quiet, hinting that something was wrong, and outright telling her. I opted for hinting that something was wrong, so they could have a conversation about it (I believe this is the solution for a lot of problems), and was placed into the ‘gold’ group. Speaking to a fellow member of my group, I found out that not everyone was asked the same moral question.

The characters that had asked us the moral questions entered the space and introduced themselves as doctors who have been developing a new piece of technology – your very own personal assistant, grown from human cells but enhanced with robotics, and supposedly devoid of human feeling, called an iAm. Three iAms enter the space, speaking in robotic voices, and the doctors demonstrate that they can ask the iAms to do specific tasks such as running around the room. The iAms are described as being ‘designed to suit your needs’ and they must obey your orders, unless it involves hurting another human or iAm.

Each group is given their own iAm to ‘test out’, and my group had the iAm played by Roseanna Frascona. At first the tasks we were fairly innocuous, such as giving her a name, or an accent. We named our iAm 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 it, just in case someone requests a really obscure one). Roseanna Frascona was absolutely brilliant throughout the whole show, adapting flawlessly to everything that was happening, and not once breaking character despite the surrealness of the situation. (I also particularly enjoyed watching Mel Cook as Dr Max, as she was suitably authoritative and menacing).

After the naming and the accents, we were told to choose clothes dress our iAms, and I started to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of us telling our iAm what to do. At the end of this task, we realised the groups were being given points for 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). I even tried to get her to leave the room at one point (she asked permission from the doctors who refused), and others in my group agreed that we should start sabotaging the tasks, and at one point we all ended up in a circle holding hands with Alexia and humming. It was still 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 of her own.

It made me very confused having an inner conflict between knowing that she was an actor, but also not wanting to make her do the tasks, as I had this inner base level reaction that I didn’t want to be complicit in it, even though it was just a performance. I was reminded of Milgram’s famous psychology experiment, proving how people are willing to hurt others just to obey authority, and I wanted to show that not everyone is like that, and perhaps we can learn from our mistakes of the past.

One thing I found really interesting was that all the iAms were female, and wondered whether this was a conscious choice, perhaps a comment on the way women’s bodies are so often abused, and made me think of a podcast I listened to recently about the fact we may not be too far away from the concept of (female) sex robots, which are under criticism for the way they perpetuate the idea objectifying women.

I don’t know whether any of the past productions have used male iAms and would be interested to see if audiences reacted differently to this. 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 (white) male.

I also would have liked a bit more analysis at the end of the show, some reference to the moral question from the beginning, and whether the way we answered our initial question affected the way we treated our iAms or not, but this was not referred to again, so didn’t seem relevant.

iAm 4.0 is such an interesting piece, like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before, and 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.

4 stars