Who are we programmed to save? From Olivier-nominated, IdeasTap Underbelly Award-winning and two-time UK national poetry slam champion writer Ben Norris – Autopilot is a gripping new play about class, power and the murky ethics of self-driving cars.
Autopilot is a deeply modern love story counterpointing hard-hitting drama and searching moral questions with moments of irresistible humour and warmth. It was shortlisted for the 2020 Popcorn Prize for New Writing, in the year of the cancelled Fringe. In 2022 it finally makes its debut.
Rowan is a geospatial engineer earning good money, and Nic is a freelance illustrator who is…not. They meet on a commission for public transport and hit it off. Mostly. Caught in a whirlwind of feelings, and a lot of sex, as their working relationship turns romantic, they both neglect to correct the others’ assumptions, or to modify the version of themselves they first projected.
Is Nic as ‘down on her luck’ as she’d have you believe? Does Rowan’s salary give her the security that Nic imagines? Why are they both so hesitant to introduce the other to their parents? When Rowan takes a job with a self-driving car manufacturer, Nic’s lefty principles and outspoken technophobia must take a back seat, and the ideological tensions in their relationship begin to pick up speed.
Told in non-chronological order, Autopilot explores agency in the age of A.I, and the human right to make mistakes, with a structure that invites us to meditate on the consequences of our decisions and how things could have been, and could still be, different: as both humans and computers do. Its central ethical question is the famous ‘trolley problem’ at the heart of autonomous vehicle design; faced with an inevitable fatal crash, should the car prioritise passengers or pedestrians? This becomes a metaphor for how we manage our relationships.
Ben Norris’ debut solo show, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family, won the 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before touring the UK and Australia, and his first short film, commissioned by Channel 4, was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award. He is currently in preproduction for his second short, commissioned by the BBC. Ben wrote the monologues for the hit jukebox musical The Choir of Man and originated the part of The Poet when the show debuted in 2017. He reprised his role for the show’s West End run, where it was nominated for the 2022 Olivier Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play. Ben is from Nottingham and is a former Creative Associate at Nottingham Playhouse and former writer-in-residence at Theatr Clwyd. He also plays Ben Archer in ‘The Archers’ on BBC Radio 4.