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AI Has Written Its First Play – Is There Anything AI Can’t Do?

by Aakash Sharma
AI Has Written Its First Play – Is There Anything AI Can’t Do?

February 28, 2021

We have all read, lived, imagined and re-imagined Issac Asimov's novels- from I, Robot to The Foundation, as the testament of sci-fi. In fact, almost over a century ago, a play by the Czech author Karel Čapek introduced the word "robot", telling the story of "artificial" factory workers designed to serve humans. Well, in a deserving 2021 metanarrative twist, a robot itself has written a play.

All those who say that arts, literature and humanities are the epochs of a bygone era, hear this- researchers from Charles University, Švanda Theater and the Academy of Performing Arts are currently striving on an exciting research project that combines artificial intelligence and robotics with theatre.

Well, it is finally happening. AI and robots are becoming a literary reality (or nightmare, feel whatever you want to). Robots and artificial intelligence have long dominated the genre of science fiction and the comic book culture. And they are finally taking their own shape (quite literally). The primary objective of the joint study between the aforementioned renowned institutions is to use artificial intelligence to create an innovative theatrical performance that will be premiered this year. So, brace yourself.

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The project's main objective is to use artificial intelligence to create an innovative theatrical performance

The 60 minutes long play, titled AI: When a Robot Writes a Play, tells the journey of a protagonist who goes out into the world to learn about society, human emotions, and even death. And the protagonist of the play is a robot.

“It’s a kind of futuristic Little Prince,” says dramatist David Košťák, who oversaw the script.

Elon Musk's trace is here too

The play’s script was created using a widely used artificial intelligence (AI) system called GPT-2. And it might not come as a shock, but this “robot” is developed by Elon Musk’s company OpenAI. It is a computer model that can be used to generate text through huge data stores on the internet. This procedure was used to write fictional short stories, short stories, and poems in the past. And by debuting into theatrical arts, GPT -2 has become the first AI to pen a dramatic production.

Here's how it works

First, programmers create the program using the AI’s command prompt. Researchers from Charles University began with a two-sentence conversation in which the AI discussed people’s feelings and experiences. For example, its first dialogue was, “Hello, I am a robot, and it is a pleasure to invite you to see a play I wrote.” The software then went on ahead with the writing direction and created 1000 additional text words on the same lines.

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It will be performed by a professional theater group, we need to have the script ready in September, so that there is enough time for dramatization, rehearsals, etc.

It is hard to make AI write (almost) like a human- for now.

AI isn’t as smart as some of us might believe it to be. After a few sentences, the program sometimes began to write something that did not follow logical story descriptions or statements that contradicted other text passages.

For example, the AI sometimes forgot that the main character was a robot, not a human. Sometimes it turned into a woman in the middle of a man’s conversation. Because the program doesn’t know the meaning of the sentence, it just keeps putting similar words together one after the other. Resultantly, with the proceeding plot, the room for nonsense expands simultaneously.

AI GPT-2 didn't write the entire play at once

To address the abovementioned drawbacks, the researchers did not allow GPT-2 to write the entire play in a single go. Instead, they divided the play into eight scenes, each less than five minutes long, as the AI can communicate with only two characters at a time.

Researchers sometimes processed the text, like changing the AI gender line or repeating the previous sentence until the correct prose is completed. The project’s experts estimate that approximately 90% of the final manuscript will be AI-generated and have at least 10% human intervention.

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To be or not to be (an AI written play), that is the question

Because the AI laden ‘extraordinaire’ robotic computer (note: sense sarcasm) didn’t come up with the whole script itself, members of the research team say that the play cannot actually be termed “AI-created”.

They delineate that it will take about 15 more years for the technology to be good enough to generate a complex and cohesive text like a theatre play from beginning to end. But the experiment is still an excellent way to show audiences what AI is currently able to do and “get people excited about it.”

The fact that the program is generating line after line of mostly intelligible writing is remarkable in itself. Ten years ago, only a sentence that looked nothing like a sentence could be created using AI, that too if technological luck abided with the code. So, the feat that GPT-2 has achieved is not a short one in any form.

AI Challenges and a long way to go

David Košťák, the script’s head, explained that it is difficult for the dramatists and actors to translate the AI-generated text because the software does not know how to organize the movements and emotions required for the performance. One of the actors involved in the project said it was the most challenging project of their career!

This project can also be a challenge for the public and might not be a real hit. In that aspect, we can very well say that it juxtaposes the Shakespearean drama on its long-lasting sustenance.

When Czech entrepreneur and artificial intelligence consultant Tomáš Studeník proposed the project, he noticed a particular scene where a boy asks the robot to tell him a joke.

The robot says that when the boy gets old and dies, and the boy’s children and grandchildren are also dead, while, he, the robot, will still be around.

It is funny, and, at the same time, it sends shivers down your spine when a piece of metal jokes about human mortality.

The AI writer wasn't as polite as we'd think

The themes of sex and violence were apparent and kept showing up regularly on the AI-generated script. In one scene, the first signs of illness in adolescence are eliminated by struggles between the characters with their fingers in the anus (doesn’t make much sense).

Well, we can’t blame the AI. After all, it only displays what people write on the internet without filtering or shedding the results. It’s almost like a child listening to its parents fight at home with cuss words and whatnot. And, to everyone’s shock, the child goes to school and starts to talk about it openly.

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the researchers started experimenting with a pretrained language model called GPT-2. This is an open-source model developed by the OpenAI consortium and trained on a large amount of online English texts. The first results of their tests are outlined in a paper pre-published on arXiv.

Weighing the pros and Cons

Regardless of the naivety and shortcomings of the almost entirely AI driven project, the technological leaps that we have taken in just the past decade cannot be overlooked. While some literature connoisseurs might frown upon the feat of AI writing their literature, many might rejoice in the possibility of their work being unburdened. 

There are always going to be two sides of the coin when it comes to technology, but what we need to decide on is- will we ever be able maintain the thin lines between a human-operated technology and a technology-operated human (feel the Socratic-Asimov-an tension here)? 

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