Uncanny Valley

by Ed Malin · October 7, 2014


Alex Podulke, Barbara Kingsley | Seth Freeman

Uncanny Valley is a term that describes the level of revulsion (a valley-shaped dip on a chart) that human beings experience when they encounter an artificial being that is human-like.  Signs of the creature being less human-like will make the real humans more comfortable.   So say Jentsch, Freud, robotics master Masahiro Mori, etc.

Thomas Gibbons crafts this concept into a two-character play which raises issues that perhaps we and our children will be talking about for the next few decades. 

At curtain, a neuroscientist, Claire (Barbara Kingsley) is working on the torso of Julian (Alex Podulke), an artificial human.  Julian's movements are awkward and he has yet to have all of his limbs installed, but his take on our species is quite profound.  He learns expressions like "mind's eye" and discovers from Claire the joys of marriage and the confusion of losing contact with grown children.

Eventually, Julian realizes that he has been created to house the memories and experiences of an aged billionaire who wants immortality.  Perhaps this is a commentary on the impersonal and dehumanizing nature of wealth.  Is Julian really the same as the man who paid for him and who has just died?  Does Julian only possess the good memories and rosy vision of himself which the original Julian chose to put on record?  What will happen when the billionaire's son tries to take away all of the immortal robot's power over his own estate?  To every thing is there a season?  Is trying to extend life a violation of nature?  (What would the average man on the street in the 19th Century have said about the idea of organ transplants?  What do Christian Scientists say about them now?) 

Claire has conflicting feelings about Julian.  She is finishing up her career and lives with her retired scientist husband who, it is suggested, is losing his mind.  Should each of us (who can afford it) have a Julian?  Or would that turn us against each other?

It's always fascinating to see humanity through the eyes of the other.  Julian doesn't know who he is, and so it's up to him (using the wealth that is now his) to define himself.  Are we really who we want to be?  The simple, controlled environment of the first scene gives way to open-ended complexity.  The fine cast and director Tom Dugdale are to be commended for showing us such transformation in these characters.





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