To Kill A Machine

On Friday I went to Cardiff to see a play. It’s a long way to go for a play, but this one’s special. It’s written by my friend Catrin, who’s a law lecturer here in Aberystwyth, and it concerns Alan Turing. She wrote it during the Alan Turing centenary year (2012), and the play has grown and developed since. Some of the actors read a scene at the BCS Mid Wales AGM in 2012, and I thought it was captivating. Since then, my interaction with the play has been accidentally at-a-distance. I wrote a piece on AI for the program, I supported the kickstarter, I spoke to colleagues and friends who loved it, I met the director and producer, I wrote letters of support, I tweeted about it. I had tickets once, but then I had the flu. It played in Aber, but I was in London. It played in London, but I was in Scotland.

So it was quite a relief to actually finally see it. It was even more of a relief to find the play was exactly as brilliant as I’d been told.

This play is not a sanitised biopic. This has not been edited for the Hollywood audience.

It’s an uncompromising story about a brilliant man, who refused to compromise in his work or in his private life. The actors are all great, but Gwydion Rhys (who plays Turing) is particularly captivating; he speaks as I imagine Turing would have done: pausing, thoughtful, awkward. The central device of the play is the game Imitation; this is also the core of Turing’s 1950 paper “On Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. In Turing’s article he debates whether it possible to tell, by asking questions, if you are talking to a man or a woman, or a human or a computer, and uses this debate to discuss the nature of artificial intelligence. The play uses the question and answer “game show” format to chilling effect.

The play goes to Edinburgh next week; it’s a one-act, fast paced, challenging piece of theatre. If you’re in Edinburgh, during the festival, I cannot recommend this enough. It’s on 7-31 August (except tues) at The Zoo, and here’s a link to buy tickets.

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