ELIZA’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley

The MIT artificial intelligence software program developed in the early sixties, called ELIZA, was a direct reference to Shaw’s Pygmalion. It made certain kinds of natural language conversation between human and computer possible. But of course intelligent response is a trick. It all has to be scripted. So how can a Robot write poetry?

This Eliza is sent into an anonymous motel, where she interacts with four characters who are all mysteriously booked into the same room. Some of them seem to be barely alive, others too much so, and others may not be real. We are observers to a test: Eliza is both learning from and assessing these individuals. In a series of scripted scenes, they explore love, death, metaphysics, evil, and evolution, probing the points in our society where boundaries may be on the verge of disintegrating: between technology and organic life, or between consciousness, non-consciousness and unconsciousness.

ELIZA’S Adventures in the Uncanny Valley is the search for a perfect, ‘scripted’ performance.

*The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncannThe show is a sociological experiment about humans engaging with technology. Mrs H, the scientist, sends Eliza, the subject, into what seems to be a motel room to interact with various subjects. Marvin, Erica and Sophia could be products of AI or merely transhumanists: people who believe that science can fundamentally change the human condition. This new world feels a bit like a religious cult or an asylum, and the ultimate goal is to cheat death, to live forever.

We set out to investigate the territory of how machines think, how algorithms talk, and how robots might be scripted to help care for us both mentally and physically. This includes family and relationship therapy.

We are playing, replaying, and splicing fragments together from the infinity of available information to write code for actors. We are asking these actors to grapple with science fact, not science fiction.

We wait and watch as Eliza goes down the rabbit hole of the uncanny valley. Will AI help or hinder her? Will science help her escape being human, or are we all destined to be alone in the universe to face death?

“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Montaigne

This production is funded by the Arts Council.
Cast and Creative Team
Text by Eugene O’Brien and Gavin Quinn
Directed by Gavin Quinn
Cast: Andrew Bennett, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, Jane McGrath, Amy Molloy, Dylan Tighe
Design: Aedín Cosgrove
Music: Si Schroeder
Dramaturgy by Nicholas Johnson

Photo by Ros Kavanagh


  • Samuel Beckett Theatre
    3 - 7 October 2018
    Book Tickets
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