The arts and the sciences, two manifestations of human creativity, have accompanied the advent of the Anthropocene. As products of human civilisation, they comment on, and analyse, the role humans play in transforming their own world. Our project, improvised theatre augmented by artificial intelligence (AI)-based chatbots and robot-based actors , combines arts and science, by playful investigation of how human actors can perform on stage alongside machines . While attempting to build a “digital actor”, we explore how mechanical and human minds can interact in artistically interesting ways, and which aesthetic and ethical topics arise in the process. Our work is inscribed in the larger AI for Creativity movement that employs machine learning models for music, text and visual art generation. In improvised theatre stories are made up on the fly, based on audience interaction, sometimes conjuring human experience, sometimes embracing the absurd; so-called improv is performed spontaneously while giving to the audience the illusion of a planned, scripted play. Similarly, AI-based chatbots – relying on state-of-the-art statistical language models that generate likely responses to human textual input – can achieve the illusion of conversing with humans by producing plausible (i.e. statistically likely) text without understanding the meaning of the words used. Parallelling these two methodologies is our artistic statement about the illusion of human communication, sometimes devoid of meaning or of proper grounding in nature. Using AI as a medium of artistic creation and performance, we stimulate the imaginations of audiences and performers by creating science-fiction scenarios challenging the place of humans on Earth. Our practice of human-machine narrative generation, leveraging the latest research on natural language understanding (machine-reading) hypothetically paves the way toward pure robot theatre where robots would perform art for the enjoyment of other robots – a statistically likely feature of the advent of the Robocene.
Piotr Mirowski, a theatre actor and researcher in AI, co-founded HumanMachine and Improbotics, world’s first AI-enabled improv companies. Experimenting with AI for artistic human and machine-based co-creation, Piotr created shows featuring robots and chatbots that have toured internationally (featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New Scientist). Piotr obtained a Diploma in Acting at London School of Dramatic Art (2015-2017) and performed in 5 plays and over 200 improv comedy shows. Piotr works as Staff Research Scientist at DeepMind on AI research applied to navigation (Nature 2018) and weather forecasting. He obtained his PhD in computer science in 2011 at New York University.
Kory Mathewson completed his Ph.D. in computing science at the University of Alberta with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. His research focuses on human-centric interactive machine learning and human-machine interfaces. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. Kory is also an accomplished improvisational theatre actor and director working around the world with Rapid Fire Theatre and Improbotics — additional details at https://korymathewson.com