With the rapidly-evolving pace and increasing ubiquity of technological gadgetry in every facet of our lives, it’s natural to wonder what huge breakthrough might come next – and how that might affect our humanity. Charlie Brooker has made a very respectable career doing so with his Black Mirror series and Bleeding Edge Theatre attempt to harness that same style of cynical prophesising with Inka, their own exploration of the moral quandaries inherent in AI.
The eponymous Inka is a computer programme created by two brilliant but maverick scientists, who make a guinea pig out of their own son by charging the automaton with his upbringing. At age seven, they decide the experiment has run its course and take Inka away from Isaac, causing him untold mental damage. Years later, Isaac rediscovers his erstwhile companion after the death of his mother and father and seeks solace in the AI once more. Meanwhile, his sister has designs on selling the technology to a developer in the hopes of cashing in big time.
As well as underlining the ethical elasticity of creating life for purely selfish reasons and exploring the ideas of intellectual property ownership, Inka also throws in an Oedipal thread for good measure. The story is told in an innovative manner, resorting to physical movement and dance to relate many sequences and incorporating a video camera and projector to emphasise the technological subject matter. Both techniques are employed effectively, with Isaac’s various dilemmas played out movingly without a single word being spoken, while Felicity Donnelly’s emotionless delivery of Inka’s lines is perfect for conveying her inhuman grace.
While the ideas raised by the play are incredibly relevant and the mediums used to express them both inventive and effective, there are times when the narrative feels a little rushed. This is nowhere more noticeable than at the play’s denouement; after a well-structured and gripping laying of the groundwork, the plot builds up into a crescendo that never really arrives. As a result, the final curtain falls somewhat abruptly and the conclusion doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as it might. Nonetheless, it’s a highly entertaining and thought-provoking look at one of the hottest potatoes in modern culture and signposts Bleeding Edge as a talented company with a bright future ahead of them.