ELODIE is a play about how we protect our children, how we raise them, and what might ruin them.
It’s inspired by a real virtual assistant for children that was nearly launched (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/well/family/mattel-aristotle-privacy.html). It’s set in a near-future world, where such AI “smart devices” can now essentially babysit your child: monitor them, converse with them, and manage their emotional state… They ease the childcare burden; especially for mothers, on whom it usually falls.
It’s the story of a leading child psychiatrist who is tempted to take the corporate dollar and endorse the latest such product, ELODIE™, but is subtly disturbed by the impact that constant interaction with a machine seems to have on her own young son. She has to decide between her own hard-to-quantify uncertainties, and the risk of fuelling an irrational technophobic movement and denying parents a potentially invaluable source of help, if she publicly denounces ELODIE™.
The play explores the brave new world of artificial intelligence, and its potential dangers. It’s also about the tension between an absolutist, technology-rejecting, back-to-nature, attachment-parenting philosophy, and a different parenting outlook which occasionally finds child-rearing a bit tedious, and is pretty tempted at the idea of buying in some help. The play aims to shine a light on aspects of motherhood that aren’t often talked about (the exhaustion, the loss of freedom, the loss of sense of self, the guilt...); and develop innovative staging methods that communicate a visceral sense of all this.
Supported by a development grant from Creative Scotland, ELODIE underwent a week-long development process hosted by the National Theatre of Scotland in January 2020, with director Jo Rush and performers Jemma Blythe and Zoe Hunter. I'm now developing the play further based on ideas generated by this initial stage. The project is supported by dramaturgy from Rosie Kellagher; development support from Edinburgh International Science Festival; and advice from leading academics at Heriot Watt University who specialise in AI development, Professor Verena Rieser and Professor Oliver Lemon.
Images from our explorations of how children interact with "AI devices", as part of the NTS Guest Room development residency.