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The Future review at Battersea Arts Centre – ‘entertaining musical comedy about artificial intelligence’

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Future at Battersea Arts Centre. Photo: Adam Trigg
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Anyone who has ever seen a TED Talk will be familiar with the mannerisms used by Little Bulb in its new show The Future. Microphone headsets, the didactic cadence of a rehearsed lecture, pantomime-level expressiveness – it’s all there.

The Future is billed as a rock-music-futurology-TED-talk exploring artificial intelligence and humanity’s future. Clare Beresford, Eugénie Pastor and Dominic Conway, dressed in black polo shirts, playing famous scientists and philosophers from the sphere of AI, are witty mimics of a certain kind of Microsoft nerd, and their slippage between scientific chat, scene-acting and singing, all in character, is consistently entertaining.

This playfulness of delivery results in a haphazard and piecemeal structure. Humorous imaginings of homicidal cyborgs bump awkwardly against upbeat songs about the nebulous but optimistic concept of ‘knowledge’.

Each scene is a sketch in itself, tenuously linked to the scene before. Only in the last 15 minutes does The Future cohere into a narrative driven by real tension.

It is also, ultimately, unsatisfying as a contribution to the discourse around AI. Though it introduces the barest bones of the current debates, it fails to address the most pertinent challenges affecting contemporary tech, which encodes the biases of its creators – predominantly white men – and is as driven by the societal force of capitalism as much as the supposedly innate human need to strive for advancement.

As a result, there’s a frustrating cuteness to what could have been a far more challenging piece, and not even the impressive vocal work and slap bass can make up for it.

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A musical romp through the artificial intelligence debate that’s entertaining but only skims the surface