Czech robots are being taught to become playwrights

Their first play should premiere in January 2021

Photo: Rosa et al A robot writing a script

Researchers at Charles University, Svanda Theater and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague are currently working on an intriguing research project that merges artificial intelligence and robotics with theater. Dubbed, THEaiTRE, the project's main objective is to use AI to create an innovative theatrical performance, which is expected to premiere in January 2021.

Researcher Rudolf Rosa of Charles University said the idea was initially suggested by entrepreneur Tomas Studenik as a means of celebrating the 100th anniversary of RUR - aka Rossum's Universal Robots - a 1921 play by Karel and Josef Capek that is credited with originating the term "robot."

"Tomas thought that this should be properly celebrated and came up with the idea of turning the story around: 100 years ago, a man wrote a theater play about robots; what if today, robots wrote a theater play about men?" Rosa told TechXplore.

He also said that before they work on their project started, the researchers reviewed previous literature exploring the potential of AI techniques for the creation of poetry, music, paintings, or other forms of art.

But while there are now a large number of papers focusing on machine-produced art, including somewhere computational techniques were used to produce dialogues or story ideas for theater plays, the automatic generation of an entire theatrical performance is a highly complex task that has rarely been attempted before.

Hence, so far, 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.

"Our project is still in its early days, but we have been quite amazed at how well just the basic approach of utilizing pretrained GPT-2 model works," Rosa said. "We only fed it a few lines from a script and it picked up its genre, structure, topic and character names, using this information to generate more or less plausible lines. This was achieved without any adaptation or fine-tuning: we just used the model as it is available online for download, which shows that GPT-2 models really are quite powerful."

"However, thanks to the approaching anniversary, our main target is clear and fixed: by January 2021, we need to have a play ready for the premiere," he added.

He said the team is aiming to have a script finished in September to give the theater group time to turn it into a full-fledged production.

"Even though we are developing a general tool for theater script generation, at the moment we only really need to generate one script," the researcher said.

"We also still need to ensure that the generated script is coherent and does not repeat or contradict itself, does not introduce new random characters too often, as well as minor but funny things such as preventing cases where a character leaves the scene but continues to speak," Rosa continued.

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