The message of the Matrix movies is that human and non-human lifeforms don’t exist well together. Within that lies an idea more complex than the usual dystopian fiction – namely, that any kind of peaceful collaboration needs an advancement of mind. The non-biological programmes who work with humans in the Matrix movies are themselves far further advanced than the murderous machine that is Agent Smith and his unlimited clones. 

How will we teach our non-bio companions to advance their powerful minds away from domination, when we, their creators, continue to flag-wave the lethal binary of Winner V Wiped-Out? 

Homo sapiens too often chooses conflict, colonisation and competition over collaboration. It’s how empires are built, and it’s how capitalism has styled itself since the Industrial Revolution. 

Peaceful and productive co-existence is for losers. Right? 

Dancers for Free Your Mind with hands raised to clap in rehearsals

We know that story. We know we are hostile chimps and not community-minded bonobos. Many of us are watching with dismay the rise of nationalism and tribalism, disastrous mindsets that could tip the world into total war. At the same time, we are fighting to save our ecosystems from man-made ruin. 

It doesn’t look good for the smartest species on the planet. 

That’s why I believe our best chance is to work with AI. 

The dystopias we fear are amplifications of our own behaviour. Machine intelligence reflects who and what we are to an order of magnitude. Didn’t we discover that algorithms trained on our datasets churned out results that assumed the world is made up of straight white dudes? We saw this in health, in recruitment, in the genderisation of jobs. We saw it in the way social security systems ‘screened’ people, in the way the police profiled ‘risks’. There is no inherent bias in a machine – how can there be? The bias is in the data used to programme the machines, in the goals we set for the machines, and increasingly, as we teach Large Language Models to ‘think’, we must ask what all this ‘thinking’ is for. 

Stories are flexible and can change. Stories do change. We can change the story because we are the story. 

Jeanette Winterson

Descartes' famous ‘I think therefore I am’ is no longer fit for purpose. As non-biological systems start to think for themselves, where does that leave homo sapiens? 

In fact, most of the problems on Planet Earth right now could be solved by removing humans. Don’t blame the machines if they do just that. 

But that’s not how this needs to be. Stories are flexible and can change. Stories do change. We can change the story because we are the story. 

Dancers in stretched white fabric attached to a rig in rehearsals for Free Your Mind

Free Your Mind is a world-first adaptation of The Matrix and our official opening show, which runs from 13 October to 5 November 2023. Read the full version of The Future of Us in the print programme – available to buy at Aviva Studios.

Photography by Tristram Kenton.

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