by Isidora Stevenson
Translation by Bruce Gibbons Fell.
In the not too distant future, in waiting room of a Data Center, a neuroscience researcher, a businessman from the new technology industry, a teacher specialized in communication skills, a therapist that promotes disconnection, and a taciturn hacker discover they are bound together by the disappearance of a young man, addicted to virtual reality games. What begins as a chance encounter ends up revealing the scope and the dominance of a new artificial intelligence program.
The following text is an excerpt from the play.
This play is fully protected under Chilean copyright laws.
They look at each other. Blackout. The light comes back, and The friend stands where he had been before disappearing.
The mother: Where were you?
The friend: They took me out for a second.
The mother: Who?
The friend: Them.
The facilitator: Who are they?
The friend: The ones who summoned us.
The lover: Who are they, exactly?
The friend: I have no idea.
The facilitator: Where did they take you?
The lover: Did you see anything?
The friend: (To the facilitator) I don’t know. (To the lover) No.
The lover: Did they say anything?
The friend: It was dark, I couldn’t see a thing, I could only hear a voice. I couldn’t tell whether it was male or female.
The lover: When are they taking us out of here? What’s going to happen? What do they want from us?
The mother: What did the voice say?
The friend: It said to be patient. That they’re waiting for others to arrive before we can begin. That everyone who’s been summoned has to be here. That’s is the reason we can’t leave yet.
The facilitator: Is that all the voice said?
The friend: Yes.
The facilitator: And who are the others?
The friend: I have no idea.
Pause. Everyone is nervous.
The therapist: (moving closer to the friend) I kept thinking about it. I wanted to congratulate you.
The friend: What for?
The therapist: For not committing suicide. It must have been an experience…
The friend: Thanks, but it wasn’t up to me, and I don’t feel proud about it either.
The therapist: Why is that?
The friend: I rather not talk about it.
The therapist: I understand.
The facilitator: Did you know anyone who played the game to the very end?
The friend: I do.
The lover: Amongst all the groups where I teach, over ten kids have committed suicide. It’s dreadful.
The therapist: Over ten?
The lover: But, if we think about what we were discussing, if the replicas exist… families could communicate with their children, I mean, with their replicas, and it’d be as if they didn’t completely die… right?
The facilitator: Well, some programs allow you to chat with someone who’s dead or that can allow a deceased person to “keep tweeting,” for example. You just have to give them access to all your information.
The therapist: That’s insane.
The facilitator: But it can ease the pain, make coping with the void a person leaves behind after death much more manageable. Why do you think people, when someone dies, keep posting things on their wall?
The therapist: I don’t want to sound blunt, but we’re living in an exhibitionistic, verbose era. I personally think that it’s only to show others, those who live, that we suffer. Because a dead person is not going to like anything I post. They could perfectly light a candle somewhere private, and the deceased would still be honored. Without the need to upload a photo of the candle, of course. (Pause) In this era, silence and intimacy are an act of resistance.
The mother: Does the game tell you how to die?
The friend: It suggests the best way according to your profile. Since they know everything, they suggest the easiest way you have access to.
The facilitator: They use algorithms. It sounds macabre, but it’s brilliant.
The therapist: Excuse me?
The facilitator: I know it’s unpopular to say it, but I think it’s impressive, from a sociological point of view, how an online game, an application that doesn’t even use the experience of virtual reality, manages to do that.
The therapist: What did it suggest you do?
The friend: Pills.
The lover: And what kind of profile do you have for it to suggest that?
The friend: Well, blood makes me squeamish. It makes me faint. In theater club at school, we did this version of Romeo and Juliet. I played Romeo, and the death scene was really gory, and I got a standing ovation. And my dad was a medical sales representative, so we still have boxes and boxes of medications at home.
The therapist: And the program knows all that?
The friend: They know everything about everyone.
The facilitator: Medical sales representative? What was that?
The friend: People that took medical samples to doctors.
The mother: They would present doctors with new pharmaceutical products. It’s when you went to the doctor’s, and you’d see someone with a suitcase in the waiting room.
The facilitator: Oh!
The lover: Alright. I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about these things anymore. I don’t want to get more paranoid than I already am. I’m exhausted. I need to use the restroom. And I’m thirsty.
The therapist: That’s right. The wait has been more than enough. (Raising her voice) Please, can someone come and talk to us?
The facilitator: (Whispering) They’ve been monitoring this whole conversation. They want to know how we react.
The therapist: (Whispering) You think?
The lover: (Whispering) They’re not the least bit interested in us, (Raising her voice) I bet they’re sleeping or drinking coffee and once their break is over they’ll take us out of here.
The facilitator: (Whispering) Don’t be foolish. They haven’t taken their eyes off us.
The lover: You’d be shocked by the laziness of public servants.
The facilitator: Why are you talking about public servants? They don’t exist anymore.
The lover: What do you mean? I’m a public servant.
The facilitator: You’re one of the few left. The last remnants of the old system. The concept is going to die with you.
The lover: Do you think so?
The facilitator: Everyone who was part of state bureaucracy has been replaced by Artificial Intelligence.
The lover: But I’m not part of the bureaucracy. I teach.
The facilitator: Korea and Taiwan have been teaching with robots fore years. They had virtual tutors for years. And they do the job better. I’m sorry, but virtual tutors are better evaluated, they respond way faster, and at any time, they don’t get tired, they don’t get bored, and they don’t get distracted. And above all, they have no preference over their students, they don’t create confusing relationships with their students, and they never make mistakes.
The lover: They never make mistakes?
The facilitator: Machines don’t make mistakes. Now, if you ask them to do something they can’t, they won’t’. Machines are a set of rules.
The therapist: You shouldn’t talk like that. The amount of depressed people due to the unemployment brought on by artificial intelligence is scandalous.
The facilitator: Bear in mind that I’m not saying that every job can or should be done by robots, chatbots, or Artificial Intelligence. Still, the industry has increased its revenue in numbers that used to be unthinkable. The country has achieved higher productivity thanks to the arrival of these elements in the labor market. That is to say, there’s work that not even immigrants wanted to do and robots, they don’t complain.
The therapist: What you’re saying is probably true, but, in practice, forced idleness and premature retirement have created severe damage. Besides, there are traditional occupations that have entirely disappeared. It’s a shame.
The facilitator: Occupational obsolescence. We can’t withstand technological development. There’s no turning back.
The therapist: It’s brought on loads of depression, impoverished families.
The friend: My old man, for example.
The facilitator: It was evident that a job like that would disappear over time. The amount of time that doctors lost, and never mind their patients, with the interruption of a medical sales representative, was huge. And there’s also the issue regarding the sale of medical samples.
The lover: But when you went to the doctor, they’d give you the sample for free.
The friend: All of them were sacked. From one day to the next.
The facilitator: And what did they replace them with?
The friend: A chatbot. A virtual representative. It offers the doctors new products, and only the ones the doctor wants are sent from the lab.
The therapist: It must have been really tough on your dad.
The facilitator: But there’s been enormous progress.
The lover: In what sense?
The facilitator: In labor relations. You avoid all the union issues. Workdays not being able to be longer than an X amount of hours, readjustments, fair wages. They don’t complain, they don’t take breaks, they don’t ask for permission to go to “pay the doctor a visit,” they don’t go on holiday or even rest. All you have to do is program them and, if necessary, hire an external maintenance service. And you forget about the whole thing.
The mother: No wonder you call yourself an entrepreneur.
Cast Paola Volpato, Patricia Rivadeneira, Ximena Carrera, Francisco Pérez-Bannen and Felipe Zambrano.
Stage and Lighting Design: Pablo de la Fuente
Costume Design: Andrea Contreras
Music: Alejandro Miranda
Audiovisual Design: Marcello Martínez
Production: Carolina Courbis, Alessandra Massardo
Theater and Artificial Intelligence Seminar Coordinator: Horacio Pérez
Outreach: Claudia Palominos
Produced by Teatro del Lago, Festival Puerto de Ideas and Corporación Cultural de Quilicura.
This project was funded by the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes (National Fund for Cultural Development and the Arts) in 2018.
To contact the author, write to us.
The Interdram Interviews 2020 are funded by the Ministry of Arts and Culture (Fondart Nacional de Difusión convocatoria 2020).