AI centre stage in new take on Festival Fringe

Published: 3 August 2020

Since the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began, its events listings have paraded an eclectic mix of shows.

In the absence of a physical version of the world’s biggest arts festival, this year researchers at the University have used Artificial Intelligence to analyse a digital archive of Fringe listings, and to imagine a series of mind-bending online spectacles.

An array of fantastical show descriptions will be posted hourly on Twitter to allow online audiences to interact with ImprovBot which created the performances – and the comedy troupe tasked with staging them.

In partnership with the Festival Fringe, researchers mined eight years’ worth of data from Fringe programmes. The researchers instructed the ImprovBot to repetitively mine the 100-word text descriptions of every show from 2011 to 2019, amounting to more than two million words.

The bot will riff on this data to devise the world’s first AI-generated event blurbs for an imagined festival of comedy, plays, musicals, and cabaret. It will come up with more than 350 show descriptions - ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious.

The Improverts - the Fringe’s longest running improvised comedy group – will then use the descriptions to give their playful take on the shows via Twitter.

Examples of the imaginary shows include Bvinta What Hour, described by the ImprovBot as “a theatrical paranormal political programme”, The High School Voice of Work in Progress, allegedly “an hour of delightfully darkly confident examples of reality”, The Waters of Leaves: “The haunting story of a man who's seen a medical coming of age story”, and George Davis: Clarinet Horror Show.

ImprovBot was developed as a recurrent neural network – a computer program that operates in a manner inspired by the natural neural network in the brain.

The researchers programmed ImprovBot to invent the shows using an Artificial Intelligence technique that trains a neural network to recognise patterns in text until they can construct their own descriptions.

The aim of ImprovBot is to explore the junction of human creativity and comedy, and to see how this is affected when an Artificial Intelligence enters into the mix. It is reminder of the playfulness of the Fringe and we invite online audiences to rise to the provocation, and interact, remix, mashup, and play with the content.

Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

ImprovBot has been developed by experts in exploring creative opportunities from data driven innovation via Creative Informatics - a research and development programme based in Edinburgh, which brings the city’s world-class creative industries and tech sector together.

They worked in partnership with Improverts – Edinburgh University Student’s Association’s improvisation troupe – and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

ImprovBot was programmed by Gavin Inglis, a creative technologist and writer for interactive media, who also teaches creative writing at the University’s Centre for Open Learning, and Rudolf Ammann, a London-based designer and visual artist. will be active from 1pm on Friday 7 August until 7pm on Monday 31 August. on Twitter at @improvbot_ai.

This years’ Edinburgh Festival Fringe features a range of alternative activities including a programme of virtual shows, a festival-wide crowdfunding campaign and artist-facing workshops.




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