According to the Alzheimer’s Association, around 5.4 million people in the United States alone was suffering from Alzheimer’s last year. This figure varied among all age groups, though was much more prevalent between the ages of 75 and 84. It’s a terrible disease which forces its victims to begin losing their memories, including that of basic bodily functions like breathing.
Which is why Pipeline Theatre has teamed up with robotics company Engineered Arts to bring about a play that puts this disease front and center. The play is titled Spillikin: A Love Story, and it stars four human actors and one RoboThespian. Spillikin tells the story of a married couple in 2029, Sally and Raymond. Raymond is a robotics engineer and Sally is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Just before Raymond passes away, he’s able to engineer a robot to keep Sally company. Though this isn’t any ordinary robot, for Raymond had uploaded his consciousness into it. Equipped with his memories and personality, the RoboThespian presents a live-action love letter to the woman he loved. And as she quickly falls into the grips of her disease, Sally explores the comfort and heartache of having a robot companion desperately trying to help her remember who she (and her husband) once was.
As Spillikin tours around England, exploring a fictional world of 2029, one can’t help but question what our own 2029 might look like. Will we have robots, equipped with our memories and personalities, acting as companions to those who are suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s? Given the fact that we already have robots looking after people suffering from the disease, I’d say the likelihood of this being so is quite high.
Mind you, today’s personal robots are still nowhere near the proficiency of the RoboThespian. We can’t upload our memories or personalities into them just yet. But by 2029, this might actually be common practice. Whether we use bipedal humanoid robots or simple operating systems on our phones, people will eventually be able to encode their personalities into them. They might not be perfectly accurate, but enough to ensure those needing you the most are given the comfort and companionship they desire.
“Making work about what you know or desire to better understand, I think lends it integrity. My mother has Alzheimer’s. I am frightened when I try to imagine her experience, but intrigued and excited to manifest it on stage, and wish I had the patience of a robot.”
– Alan Munden, Director
Thirty to fifty years from now, humanoid robots will be completely integrated into our global society. Everywhere you look, from our shops and homes to our hospitals and police departments, there’ll likely be as many robots as there are humans. They’ll be taking care of the elderly, helping keep our streets clean and safe, and, for some, even become personal companions for the human population.
In fact, many among the human population will likely begin blurring the lines between what it means to be a human and what it means to be a robot by this time. In fifty years time, there’ll be three different species walking on this planet – humans, robots, and cyborgs. Identity will become a hot button issue by then, as I’m sure diseases like Alzheimer’s will have finally been cured and is no longer considered a problem. Which then raises the question: who among the three will thrive to become the dominating species?
Photo Credit: Pipeline Theatre Company