utilitarian dramatics

July 14 2010

Last night I was fortunate enough to see Boho Interactive’s production True Logic Of The Future at Belconnen Arts Centre.

The show was inspiring.  It transformed neoclassical economic theory into a dramatic 1 act interactive performance piece in a quasi-sci-fi setting.  Back in my first year of economics I was lucky enough to have a man called Paul Chen as a lecturer who was famous for jumping around the lecture theatre in explaining basic economic concepts in an amazingly physical way – he was one of those ‘unique’ teachers whom every student remembers and was inspired by – but Paul Chen has nothing compared to Boho Interactive in explaining economic thought in a creative yet meaningful manner.

The show was loosely based around the theory of 19th century economist William Stanley Jevon’s whose work is often categorised with a group of economists who became known as  the Neoclassical school, for which contemporary microeconomic theory is currently based upon.  One of the basic tenants of neoclassical economics is that each individual makes decisions in order to maximise his or her utility (i.e. happiness).  In a market system, demand, supply, prices, profit, production, etc. etc. are derived from this utility (or marginal utility to be more exact – how much happier would one additional piece of pie actually make you?).

True Logic asked the question:  What if we could give the power to maximise our utility to an artificial intelligence, and When/Why would we choose to do this?  It explored various human responses to this question in an entertaining, personable fashion.  In between all of this, the ‘artificial intelligence’ was essentially giving the audience a lecture in neoclassical economic theory (although it was presented more like an Issac Asimov story at the time).  From what I remember, there are several centres around the world where computers do attempt to ‘measure’ human utility from people’s responses and brain patterns, which raises some interesting questions…

What I enjoyed most about True Logic was that economic theory could be applied artistically.  Only that morning, I made the remark to a friend of mine as to whether economist John Nash’s Prisoner’s Dilemma, or a ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘, could be interpreted musically.  I have known composers who have done this before, but the result has been more interesting from the performers perspective, rather than from an audience’s perspective (see Cornelius Cardew ‘commie’ music). What I loved about True Logic is it was able to convert these theoretical constructs into a meaningful artistic creation which was not self-indulgent, but incredibly stimulating to watch and feel a part of.

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