The singularity is coming.
For some people, this is geek mumbo-jumbo, science fiction run amok. For others, this is a clear and present danger… or a much-anticipated arrival of an almost divine force. For those of you who don’t know what the singularity is, here’s the wiki.
One person in particular who has given a boost to all things singularity is Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google. Kurzweil. “He has a few ideas about what’s going to happen around 2045, namely that technology is improving at such a rate that we’ll transcend our current idea of what humanity is,” says Colin Lalonde, the mind and creative force behind Studio Porte Bleue.
Kurzweil’s ideas are the subject of #thanksbetoray, a play that takes place during a sermon at a “religious” group devoted to Kurzweil and The Singularity. “He is persuasive and people in Silicon Valley are following him,” says Lalonde. “Basically, we’re saying this is a religion. The show puts spectators in the middle of the cult of technology.”
Lalonde explains that the show is set during a Singularity meeting. “It’s a service with sermons and prayers are tweets. There’s some singing and there’s a bunch of rituals to convert people,” Lalonde explains. During the service, there’s an attempt “to convert this fellow who is a skeptic. The preacher and the skeptic have diametrically opposed ideas about mortality. They come to head.”
It’s an intriguing idea that gets at the heart of what our humanity is and what technology can offer us in the future. Lalonde says he was inspired by a show they did last year called phmrl.DATA. “It got me thinking about how technology and the way we engage in technology and how we engage with the world. There are a lot of forces in play that not all of us are totally aware of,” Lalonde says. “I thought it would be interesting to take time and look more into [Kurzweil]. I wanted to do research on him and take on these ideas that are fairly commonplace in Silicon Valley. These ideas are almost not questioned. If you do question them, you seem like crackpot.”
Lalonde explains some of the ideas introduced by Kurzweil stem from the concept that technology improves exponentially over time, not gradually. “We’re entering an era where leaps are faster and bigger. Kurzweil has made his fortune off this theory,” he says. “[Kurzweil’s] inventions coincide with technology. He invented things for technologies that hadn’t been invented yet.” Kurzweil, though, takes things further. “It goes into more spiritual beliefs that humans and machines are going to meld. We’ll upload our consciousness into the cloud and live forever,” says Lalonde.
Lalonde is still trying to figure out what to make of Kurzweil’s theories. “I find it very persuasive. It’s all based on reason and science and that’s what makes him scary,” says Lalonde. “His conclusions are radical, but he couches it in this very appealing veneer. I am sometimes convinced by him and other times, I’m like ‘What are you doing?'”
The audience is treated to a type of immersive theatre. “The idea is that you enter a Singularity temple and it is a meeting of Singulatarians. They’re all parishioners of this church, attending this sermon. And they’re all part of this community,” he says. “You’ll be asked to tweet along. You have to kneel and testify at certain points.” It’s designed for spectators to “have this back and forth where [they’re] implicated, but [they’re] not super immersed where everyone has different experiences and moves around.”
“At the end of the day, the show is talking about how people deal with mortality,” Lalonde says. “It’s about two people who have lost someone in their lives. One deals with it by believing he can make her come back to life through Kurzweil; one is like, ‘She’s gone. It sucks.'”
#thanksbetoray promises to be provocative and fascinating. “Our shows are designed so people can have a conversation,” says Lalonde. “We present these ideas in an ambiguous way that doesn’t give easy answers. We unpack it together, and that’s the part that excites me. Afterwards, we hang out with our spectators and have a conversation.”
I ask Lalonde if they expect anyone to come who might think this is a real meeting for Singulatarians. “It would terrify me if we had people who believed these things come,” he says. “I hope they come.”
#thanksbetoray takes place May 14-31 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at Studio Porte Bleue (3035 St. Antoine W, suite 378) at 8 p.m. $25/20. Click here for tickets.