Making Interference by Cora Bissett
Back in 2017, the seed for Interference began with my feeling that our freedom of speech, thought and actions were being insidiously eroded at the same time as the UK Government was announcing that the UN Declaration of Human Rights would be scrapped and replaced with a British Bill of Rights – with very little clarity or interrogation. This evolved into an interest in the myriad ways in which our entire ‘private spaces’ were being accessed, often with our complete collusion, whether that be our online data, our homes, our dating patterns, our thoughts.
I came across this article by Steve Jordhal which I thought would be an interesting starting point for exploring just how we retain ‘who we are’:
Scientists have already connected a paralysed man’s brain to a computer to help him walk, for example, and Facebook says it’s working on software that allows you to type just by thinking.
Tech ethicists such as David Ryan Polgar says it’s just a short jump to being able to steal or change a person’s thoughts – likely without them even knowing.
“Our thoughts are incredibly valuable,” he says, “so we want to kind of make sure that there’s some sanctity of us being able to control who has access to those thoughts.”
Ethicists are proposing four new human rights laws: the right to think whatever you want; the right to keep those thoughts private; the right to keep your thoughts from being misused, like for example someone stealing your ATM code and the right to psychological continuity – don’t make me someone I’m not.
The subject is so vast, there are so many angles to come at it from, that one play wouldn’t do the idea justice. I wanted to find deeply contrasting writers, who came from very different perspectives, styles and heritages. Together with Rosie Kellagher (National Theatre of Scotland’s Dramaturg), we set about finding interesting voices that would reflect all the blurry intersections, and areas where the moral compass isn’t entirely clear. I gave them this remit: find a narrative or idea which explores how technology is affecting our relationships with each other and ourselves for good or for bad, and how it is altering our understanding of what intimacy and privacy actually means.
As the writers came back with their concepts, I grew more and more excited. We shared two developments where initial ideas were shared, along with TEDTalks, articles and documentaries. By the second development, we had rough drafts to try out together. It was fascinating to see the contrast in tone and subject matter, but also the subtle connections running between them all. For Morna and Hannah, their ideas were fiction-based imaginings which they only discovered were a very possible reality on further research. Vlad, in contrast, had recently read an article outlining the very real proposal that robots be used in care homes in order to solve the problem of an exponential rise in the needs of elderly care. All of the plays have core ideas which are already possible or are not far from being so.
The three pieces for me were not difficult to order. Whilst one deals with a young couple trying to navigate the morality of creating a genetically engineered baby, another deals with a mother-daughter trying to connect in a virtual world. The final piece deals with a terminally ill woman being cared for by a robot. It felt like they naturally created a ‘life arc’ together, exploring the very possible future predicaments we could come up against at key stages in a life.
But the production is not in any way anti-technology. Humans created the technology. The tech itself is benign – what matters is how we use it, to what ends and where we draw the lines. How do we decide when to stop; what is a human way to live and what is not?