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Artificial Intelligence Improvisation
Etcetera Theatre
31st July 2017


Publicity image for Artificial Intelligence Improvisation

Photography provided by HumanMachine

Back in the day, we used to be afraid that one of our colleagues would badmouth us and grab those promotions and pay rises we so rightfully deserved. Ah, nostalgia. These days, never mind backstabbing coworkers, we're all worried that that it's the robots that are coming for our jobs. Think Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Andrew in Bicentennial Man, any of the very many robots in I, Robot or the synths in recently recommissioned TV series Humans. It turns out that robots are now coming for comedians, with one third of the team behind Artificial Intelligence Improvisation a genderless robot called A.L.Ex, who has learned all he/she/it knows from binging on films. Welcome to the future of entertainment.

Over the course of 50 minutes, A.L.Ex is joined in person by affable nerd Albert (Piotr Mirowski) and remotely by mysterious hacker mYlez (Koray Mathewson). The trio do improv for us and even explain a little about Alan Turing's work on whether machines could ever potentially pass for people. The humour is driven in the main from A.L.Ex feeding the human performers a thoroughly unhelpful line and effectively derailing their improvisation attempts. The more irrelevant and confusing A.L.Ex's choice of dialogue, the more raucous the laughter. At one point the robot innocently enquires whether mYlez is a virgin and protests to Albert that it doesn't want to go to the priest. The heavy reliance on tech does lead to a few lulls, but the audience is curious enough to forgive these and stay with the performers.

The most fascinating aspect of Artificial Intelligence Improvisation is that despite the characters being make believe, the technology behind this show is genuine. Mirowski and Mathewson assuming geek personae when they both work in artificial intelligence in their days jobs doesn't seem to add much to the show and in fact does takes away from the overall impact because it makes us question whether A.L.Ex is also a front. When you realise that this isn't stage trickery and Mirowski has indeed wired up and coded the robot to deliberately be so obtuse when interacting with him and Mathewson, you gain a newfound appreciation of the act. Gimmicky? Maybe a little. However it's also very cool and a lot of fun to observe.

When the two men team up for one final piece of improv and leave out their machine co-star, the energy in the room (despite the transatlantic link meaning one of them isn't anywhere near the room) is strong with the audience visibly and audibly engaged. Paring back the technology here allows them more freedom to read the audience and each other and throw ideas around. It's also unclear whether it's Albert and mYleZ playing or Mirowski and Mathewson playing and that's really the point: there's no need for alter egos when the real deal works just as well and the characters will always be assuming other roles when improvising anyway. Whoever they are in this segment, they're very well received by an enthusiastic audience.

If you're ever whiled away the hours pestering the assistant on your phone to sing a bit of Queen or debated philosophical issues involving chickens (sorry, Siri) then the concept of this show will instantly appeal. Slightly ramshackle and prone to system error, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation opened on 31st July and runs until 1st August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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