The Ruins of Earth: Notes from A Human Assistant to AI

Are you ready to step into the future and explore the ruins of the past? Join X2-729 on a walking tour through a long-lost civilisation that had the audacity to think it was the centre of the universe. The Ruins of Earth is a new theatrical experience commissioned by Manchester Independents, written by AI, curated by Mancunian theatre-makers and tech-enthusiasts leo&hyde. Read on to find out how the project has come to life.

My writer friends and I often discuss (or rather, argue) what AI means for us. Are we, before long, going to redundant (more than we already are)?

I don’t know why, but I always seem to be the utopian in these conversations. When new technology is announced, I’m bowled over by the magic of it. The boring everydayness of everything else disappears. I’m a child again.

When lockdown hit, I expanded from techy musical theatre into working for VR companies (and eventually working on hybrid VR musicals). In 2022, AI became centre-stage, and I began depicting it in our Coffee Shop Musical, incorporating AI images into our outdoor projections, and creating unusual poetry with it.

But this is our first AI-written show.


AI As Writer

Yeah but, what does that mean, “AI-written”? 

I’ve felt like a commissioning editor. It all began when I was on a tour of the Ruins of Athens and, naturally, got thinking about a future where our own civilisation sits in a rubble. Could we create an experience where AI in a distant land would come back to Earth to see where it all began? And how appropriate would it be for present-day, still-in-development-stage AIs to be tasked with creating it?

That night, I got playing – tasking Chat GPT with explaining how such a tour might work, what kind of stops it would go to, and what it would say at each stop. Over the months as I’ve been watching it generate material and curating it, these were my observations.

      1. It’s funny. Very, very funny. I would have expected an AI-generated script to be fundamentally weird. But it nails clear writing infused with observational comedy.
      2. It’s out-of-this-world creative. No spoilers, but there’s no way, if I’d have been solely in charge of choosing the stops of this tour, they’d have been half as imaginative.
      3. It’s quick. Weirdly, the style it writes in is similar to that of the narration in The Coffee Shop Musical. The big difference: Ruins of Earth was SO much quicker.
      4. It can only do what it can do. Like anyone, when you first meet the technology, you’re awestruck by what it can achieve. But after a while, you see the patterns, and therefore its own creative limitations. More models needed, please!

    As excited as when I began. It’s been a truly creative, collaborative process.

    With my background in musical theatre, everything I do is inherently collaborative; I’m used to working with composers, directors, designers, actors all the way from having an idea to audiences seeing it. 

    My experience with AI has been exactly like that. (The only difference I’ve really felt is, it argues with me less.)

    On the one hand, I’m awed by my collaborator, and grateful to be able to work with it; on the other hand, I realise I have to give feedback to make sure it turns out right, and fits the ultimate shape.


    The Ruins of Earth walking tours take place Sat 26th Aug, Sun 27th Aug and Sun 3rd Sept, at 11am and at 2pm each day.

    About the artist

    Leo Mercer is a Mancunian writer and creative producer, working across theatre, music and XR. With his theatre company leo&hyde, he has done GUY (Hope Mill Theatre, 2018), The Marriage of Kim K (The Lowry, 2019) and The Coffee Shop Musical (Touring, 2022-2023), and in XR he created the AR Blackpool walking tour ‘Queercoaster’ for Storytrails, and in VR, curated a Museum of Plastic 2121 for COP26.