In the beginning was the Supercomputer, and the words came out of the Supercomputer, and the words were all right.
We are in a lecture hall, where Michael (Mike Rudden) holds forth about his beloved Supercomputer, which can, he says, predict the future. Predict the future! The implications are a little creepy: if the future is set in stone, can we be said to have free will?
It is not a barrier to Michael. Holding forth first like a preacher, then like a magician, Michael preaches the Gospel of Supercomputer in a kind of ecstatic trance. And, like some mystics and monks, his religion has swept away every other aspect of his life. The Supercomputer is not just his love; it is his altar.
Michael presents Pascal’s Wager to us: God either is, or is not. There is no way to tell. If you believe, and are wrong, you will have lost out on some trivial pleasures. If you do not believe, and are wrong, you miss out on eternity. Therefore, all rational people must believe.
Then Michael proposes to remove the uncertainty. The Supercomputer will create simulations, in which an entire universe will be created and peopled, using the laws of probability. Peopled by people like us. Down to the very individuals in his show.
He proposes a test. He turns to the Supercomputer. It spits out a printout.
He calls up Lily, who is sitting next to me. She writes down some answers, makes a decision, writes it down. He gives her $20.
The printout, we learn, has predicted the choices Lily made. Exactly.
Knowledge is power. Absolute knowledge is absolute power.
After watching this show, step back a little bit and breathe. Science is making huge advances in AI, but we’re not at the point where computers have achieved clairvoyance.
Rudden does a beautiful job of showing a man on a mission — a man whose work makes him float, makes him radiate joy like a quasar radiates gamma rays. Michael would be the kind of professor who would have a coterie of students who would take his every class, in love with his passion, in thrall to his thrall.
Are there limits to Roko’s Basilisk? Yes, unfortunately. When Michael talks about the things he’s given up for the Supercomputer, I just don’t buy it. I don’t see the correlation between his work and his loss. That’s about the only thing that playwright Matthew Marcus wasn’t able to sell, though.
Roko’s Basilisk written and directed by Matthew Marcus. Assistant director: Lily Kerrigan. Featuring: Mike Rudden and Ariana Almajan. Lighting: Stephanie Chu Rudden. Produced by Reliant Theatre. Reviewed by Selma Khenissi.