In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of largely uninformed news coverage relating to something called ChatGPT. This is a developing project which, if taken to its extreme, could eventually make almost everybody redundant.

The idea is that Artificial Intelligence will soon have the capability to do all kinds of clever things such as writing columns of this type—perish the thought. Already, students are going to be using the service to pass exams, which is likely to make life very tedious for those obliged to examine and mark the papers. On second thoughts, presumably they can use their own AI program, although that could also be a first step on the road to unemployment.

These are early days, but, given the media frenzy, it seemed like a reasonable time to consider how AI might impact the discipline that we all adore. At some point, it is inevitable that a play will be written by a computer. This follows the principle that if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, they will eventually like to complete works of Shakespeare.

In the short to medium term, it is more likely that a computer will write the complete works of monkeys than anything most human beings want to watch. They are already composing music which will appeal to the undiscerning and, given enough iterations, might eventually put Beethoven and the Beatles into the shadows (not the Cliff Richard backing band either).

Before readers get too snooty about the idea of computers eliminating the artistic role, it is worth remembering that their introduction into the theatre has already brought considerable benefits, reducing costs of productions and improving the lives of those involved. What they will never be able to do is replicate the quirky human imagination, which is why artistic souls will surely never be successfully replaced by automatons.

We might not have noticed it yet, but this is already happening to a degree in the theatre. Playwrights will undoubtedly be using computer programs to improve the layout of plays and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Directors hold a unique position in the theatre and would find it hard to imagine that they could be replaced by high-tech alternatives. However, some elements of their work could certainly be eased, for example blocking a play. Similarly, set designers benefit from the use of computer-generated imagery, following the precedent set by William Dudley on The Coast of Utopia.

Another likely scenario is the gradual replacement of lighting and sound designers and engineers by AI. Already, much of their work is heavily computerised and for low-budget productions there could be a strong argument for cutting costs even further and relying on standardised programming?

How about actors? Surely that is going a step too far but…

It probably won’t be long before the occasional stage performer in a play is portrayed by a robot. The technology is already getting to the point where a robot could look roughly like a human being and carry out relatively basic tasks, perhaps playing one of those comical maids in a Coward comedy? They could also act as body doubles for actors in Shakespearean fight scenes.

In the fullness of time, some actors might actually enjoy the prospect of playing with a colleague who never forgets his / her lines, doesn’t upstage the leading star at a critical moment and always stands in the right place.

It then doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up a little bit more creeping in, perhaps a whole chorus of robots in a musical, impeccably timed, never out of tune and programmed in such a way that they never attempt to steal the limelight from their fellows.

Theoretically, at some point in the dim and distant (we must all hope) future, we could get to the point where a play is written by a computer, directed, design, lit and musicalised by another and performed by a whole troupe of humanised Daleks.

When that day comes, it might be time to ensure that the audience is also wholly comprised of chatbots.