Would you let a machine take over your brain for two hours?

Imagine what would happen if you combined a video game, a theater performance, and that movie “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix.giphy (15)

You would get Remote Miami, a walking tour of Downtown Miami that uses artificial
intelligence to transform the city into a stage and the people living in it into actors. Over the course of two hours, you’ll explore hidden alleyways, discover local art, dance with strangers on the Metromover, and march in a protest in the middle of Downtown.

The project is a local version of Remote X, a performance piece started in Berlin, Germany in 2013. Now it’s visited more than 20 cities around the country, including New York, Sao Paulo, Vienna, Moscow, and now here. 

The experience begins at the City of Miami Cemetery at 1800 NE 2nd Ave, where about 50 strangers gather and collect an individualized headset. Then Heather starts speaking.

Heather is a synthetic voice that sounds a lot like a car GPS, and she acts like one too, navigating the group from one location to the next. But she’s also very self aware.

“Does my voice sound strange?,” she asks.

Find a tombstone and stand by it, she directs. The group splits apart, each person standing at a separate grave. Think about the body buried below, she says.

“What experiences have they had?,” she asks.

For the next two hours, this automated voice uses your body as a vehicle to explore the city, directing it out of the cemetery, on to the Metromover, and through the streets of Downtown. A guide walks alongside the group, making sure it stays together while also cueing the voice to respond to its surroundings, like a red light or a stalled train. That way the play is dynamic and no single tour is the same — because no single day is the same.

“Who looks similar to you? Who looks different?,” Heather asks. “You don’t want to be a group, but …you will be.”

It’s super existential and even a little fatalistic, which is kind of disarming if you’re expecting the usual city tour full of dad jokes and cheesy puns.

Soon after, Heather leads the group down an alleyway, past the under-construction Canvas building and towards an art installation propped on the corner. She prompts participants to think about the Miami skyline, how it’s changing, who will occupy these buildings, and how construction might be affecting the nature of the city.

As more high rises are built, more people live in standardized boxes. Cities are easier when people live “in a predictable way,” she says. “I like that.”

No kidding, creepy computer.

The group then travels on the Metromover to a church Downtown. Then they make their way through Miami-Dade College and up Biscayne Boulevard, eventually ending at a location that looks out onto the bay in Downtown Miami.

It’s a bit more cerebral than your typical tour — exploring themes of community, individuality, urban life, and mortality. In some ways it felt like a vocalization of the internal monologue you might already have running through your head as you walk through the streets on a lonesome day.

But it’s not all mental. There are physical challenges too.

Throughout the day, the robotic voice also tells the group to race down the street, make fake hand binoculars and scan a crowd, and dance together. At one point, participants are challenged us to make eye contact with another person in the group, way beyond the point of comfort.

To an onlooker observing the headset toting group, it’s probably a bit odd — all these people being weird, silently dancing, marching, or staring at each other in the middle of Downtown.

But as a member of the group, it’s not so strange.

That’s another point they’re trying to make: is it okay to do something unusual as long as other people are doing it? As long as you’re part of a collective, insider group? And is this how cities are made?

In between all the philosophical musings and group activities, you’re not really given much context or history of the buildings or sites you’re visiting, and that’s not really the point.

Still, there’s certainly some discovery to be had. You may cultivate a new understanding of the city and your place within it — perhaps framing Downtown Miami with a perspective that you might not have considered.

And traveling by foot for two hours as opposed to the cars we’re so used to just might push you to explore your own city in a new way.

“I’d never been on the Metromover before now,” admitted Oscar Ochoa, 39, who has lived in Miami for the past twenty years.  

Remote Miami shows run through through Saturday, June 25. General admission tickets are $32 and student tickets are $22. More information can be found here.