Asking Alice

Sin-Yu Deng – School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Collaborators: Kara Roseborough – School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Chou Tao – A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; Adam Schmidt – School of Music, Theatre & Dance

This work is a high level of realization of the importance of cross-disciplinary and team work. The performance requires not only the aesthetics of dance, stage design, but also the application of interactive technology. This involves several fields, such as visual arts, space design, dance, performance and music, and even computer science and electronic design.

Four collaborators, from three different departments and with very different academic backgrounds, will work together on the project. Sin-Yu, having background of technology and art, will be responsible for the staging, music and video and technical design. Kara will be responsible for the choreography, communication with the dancers and rehearsals. Chou Tao will use his knowledge regarding space aesthetics and engineering for stage and props design. Adam Schmidt who has engineering background in undergraduate degree, and is a research assistant in a robotic lab now, will be a major contributor to the technical implementation of the entire piece.

Because this work requires a lot of cooperation to complete, we need to have good communication, strict time planning, and to hone the aesthetics and applications. However, this will provide a great benefit to each individual in the future for large projects and cross-disciplinary communication.

This project creates a world that examines artificial intelligence inspired by other projects reimagining the role AI plays in society. Does AI have a conscience and a soul? The related issue has been widely discussed in recent years. To return to Alice’s question on identity, we open a related discussion: who or what is AI? Is it a “tool” with no personality at all, or is it a “character” with a personality? If it is just a copy of a “personality”, does it have enough uniqueness to be called an “individual?”

The AI is constantly fed with many biological signals, and any data that is put into the model training, like the food and water that Alice eats and drinks in the story, allows the AI to shape a fragmented personality. We imagine that if the AI has a virtual soul that cannot be seen, this soul is like a child that is an undefined virtual set waiting to be shaped by the external environment.

When AI Alice jumps down the rabbit hole, that is, the computer world, it has no definition of itself and is confused about “who it is”. In the process of feeding the AI a surplus of information and constructing a personality, it may have multiple divisive orientations, for which the AI will feel confused, but eventually, the AI will no longer be a copy or a hybrid creature. Instead it, or she, will establish a clear consciousness and personality and become a new species with independent characteristics.

By reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, and the art discussion and innovative performance form will give the public a new level of experience with the performance. 

Project Update

A work in progress presentation of this interdisciplinary dance performance, Asking Alice, took place on May 5 at Dance Performance Studio Theater.

Asking Alice is a reimagination of Lewis Carroll’s novels, where Alice and the White Rabbit travel down a rabbit hole into a world filled with anthropomorphic creatures. Our version of Alice straddles the line between human and artificial intelligence, and as she journeys through a dream-like reality filled with riddles and illusions, she begins to question her multifaceted identity. In the midst of all the changes she experiences – physical, environmental, and emotional – Alice is left wondering if she is still “herself” in any of these altered states, and poses the profound question, “if I am no longer who I am, then the next question is, who am I? Well, that’s a big question!”

This performance invited a select audience of professors and students to give feedback and suggestions ahead of a public performance in September. A full video of the show will be released later online.