by Ng Shi Kai
What does it mean for an AI to become evil? That was one of the questions posed by Yuki (played by Venny Lewis), an AI in USProductions’ 2019 Winter Production, Sixty-One.
Being a fan of sci-fi and the dystopian-themed television show Black Mirror, which explores how technology can potentially bring about unexpected consequences to humankind, I was excited to have an exclusive sneak preview of Sixty-One in one of their full-dress rehearsals.
Sixty-One is set in the future, in a world where humans and AI coexist. It follows the lives of human co-workers in a company and 61 (Wee Min), an android programmed to assist humans in their daily tasks. The overarching issue or tension of the play arises when 61 is being blamed for causing harm to a man when she (or her code) chooses to save the computers and data in a fire over preserving another human life.
The central theme of the play is the moral dilemma – if a robot makes a mistake, who should take the blame? The robot or humans who control it? To resolve this, Sylvia (Sreshya Kamakshi Vishwanathan), the detective is tasked to solve this case and interrogate co-workers Madelyn (Angela Lim), Ahat (Taha Jailani) and Thomas (Jerald Tan), and even Madelyn’s daughter, Alex (Goh Xin Hui).
Given the similarities in subject matter, it is natural that one would compare Sixty-One to last year’s production, The Dark Web, which explored similar themes about the relationship between humans and technology.
What is unique about Sixty-One is that it further examines the interactions between humans and AI, which I found intriguing.
Yuki and 61 are forms of AI featured in this play, both having extremely different personalities and relationships with their owners. Particularly, I enjoyed the innocent and faithful friendship between 16-year-old Alex and Yuki in contrast to the distrustful one between 61 and her co-workers. Their character development and how their attitudes and behaviours change based on their interactions with humans are interesting to note.
Overall, the play brings up the big question on the nature of AI. Should AIs be held responsible for their own actions just like humans and treated like they have their own free will in making decisions? Or are they merely code and a reflection of human nature? This exposes the incomprehensibility and even the selfishness of human nature.
If humans’ decision-making mechanisms are flawed in the first place, how can we expect AI (which are created by humans) to uphold moral standards?
The ending of the play is subject to interpretation and may be confusing for some, but it gives a further platform for discussion on the topic of technology.
The rehearsal I watched was a scaled down version of the final production, and as such, omitted special effects like lights and a project screen, which were meant to enhance the viewing experience. Based on what I’ve seen, the actual show at the Black Box this weekend will definitely wow its audiences.
In an age when most of us rely on our gadgets even for the simplest tasks, the audience will definitely appreciate the play’s overarching theme on our use of technology.
Most importantly, Sixty-One will challenge the audience to consider the ethical dilemmas of AI, and the future of our troubling relationship with technology.
Sixty-One is showing on 25th Jan (8pm), 26th Jan (8pm), and 27th Jan (3pm) at National Library Board Drama Centre Black Box.
The writer is currently in Year 2, majoring in Political Science. Her talents include randomly breaking into song for every situation, and she secretly aspires to be a vlogger.