Improvised Comedy as a Turing Test at NIPS 2017

December 8, 2017. Kory Mathewson and Piotr Mirowski present “Improvised Comedy as a Turing Test” at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Long Beach, California, USA, during the Workshop on Machine Learning for Creativity and Design (link to paper, slides of the presentation [pdf, keynote]).

The best improvisational theatre actors can make any scene partner, of any skill level or ability, appear talented and proficient in the art form, and thus “make them shine”.


Two human performers and an audience volunteer improvising with a robot.

To challenge this improvisational paradigm, we built an artificial intelligence (AI) trained to perform live shows alongside human actors for human audiences.

Over the course of 30 performances to a combined audience of almost 3000 people, we have refined theatrical games which involve combinations of human and (at times, adversarial) AI actors. We have developed specific scene structures to include audience participants in interesting ways.

Finally, we developed a complete show structure that submitted the audience to a Turing test and observed their suspension of disbelief, which we believe is key for human/non-human theatre co-creation.

If you would like to know more about the project from an improviser’s point of view, check out this great post by Rachel Rosenthal — Performer, Comedian, Instructor in New York, USA.

Improvised Theatre Alongside Artificial Intelligences

A new publication on “Improvised Theatre Alongside Artificial Intelligences” will be presented at the 13th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference (AIIDE’17) in Snowbird, Utah.

This study presents the first report of Artificial Improvisation, or improvisational theatre performed live, on-stage, alongside an artificial intelligence-based improvisational performer. The Artificial Improvisor is a form of artificial conversational agent, or chatbot, focused on open domain dialogue and collaborative narrative generation.

Mathewson (as mYleZ) and Mirowski (as Albert), alongside A.L.Ex. the improvisational theatre robot and an enthusiastic audience member at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques spanning from natural language processing and speech recognition to reinforcement and deep learning, these chatbots have become more lifelike and harder to discern from humans. Natural human conversations are seldom limited in scope and jump from topic to topic, they are laced with metaphor and subtext and face-to-face communication is supplemented with non-verbal cues.

Live improvised performance takes natural conversation one step further with multiple actors performing in front of an audience. In improvisation, the topic of the conversation is often given by the audience several times during the performance. These suggestions inspire actors to perform novel, unique, and engaging scenes. During each scene, actors must make rapid-fire decisions to collaboratively generate coherent narratives.

This new work introduces Pyggy and A.L.Ex. (Artificial Language Experiment), the first two Artificial Improvisors, each with a unique composition and embodiment. The paper highlights research and development, successes and failures along the way, celebrates collaborations enabling progress, and presents discussions for future work in the space of artificial improvisation.

Read the full paper

Love, sex and marriage… with a robot?


The British Academy, an academic institution championing humanities and social sciences, organised on 3 February 2017 an exciting Late event, entitled “Love, sex and marriage… with a robot?”. The evening was filled with a mixture of fascinating talks about robotics and sexuality, as well as a few artistic performances. Those included the highly talented Impropera – literally creating beautifully sung opera extracts in front of the audience – and yours truly, Albert and A.L.Ex. The talks and events at the British Academy are part of their ongoing theme on Robotics, AI and Society.

Talk on “Artificial Intelligence and Improvised Theatre”

On 18 January 2017, Piotr was very honoured to  perform as Albert and to speak – as himself – about AI and improvised theatre at the London Creative AI meetup organised by Luba Elliot.

The show and part of the talk were recorded and you can refer to the slides for the details of how the AI behind A.L.Ex was built: a neural network trained on a processed version of OpenSubtitles, with a robot avatar from EZ-Robot, some improv lessons given by playing with an AI and the complexity of the actor’s work according to Stanislavski’s System.