Spillikin, a love story between a robot and an elderly woman

26 Jun 2015

Promotional image for Spillikin via Pipeline Theatre

A robotics company in the UK has teamed up with a production company to begin working on a new play called Spillikin that follows a robot uploaded with human memory of a deceased husband who loves his wife.

Looking at a possible near future, Pipeline Theatre wanted to create a play that would pose the possibility of a husband dying of old age before his wife, who needs him in her day-to-day life due to her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.

What supposedly follows is a story whereby, unaware of who the person actually is, the widow begins to have feelings for the robot, all of which throws up questions of artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics.

According to WT Vox, the robot that will feature in Spillikin will be provided by a company called Engineered Arts, which has developed a robot that has a face projected on it from a source within the robot to give it a human-like appearance.

The Pipeline production team teamed up with carers who look after people who suffer from Alzheimer’s to create the play.

Speaking of what it means to work on a play that uses their robots, Engineered Arts’ director Will Jackson said: “The vision depicted in the play is not really that far off our current capabilities. Most of the technology already exists, which is why you see these questions coming up so often now in robotics discussions. People are either very worried about the possibility that AI will destroy humanity, or they are convinced it will save us.

He continued: “We think the truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but it’s important to examine the ethical, moral and philosophical ramifications of artificial intelligence and robots with human-like characteristics. And the best way to do that is to let people watch a story like this unfold in front of them, and draw them into the debate. This play isn’t about presenting one side or another, but about exploring the issue in a nuanced, critical, human-centric way.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic