Improbotics Flanders

Improbotics is an improv theatre production in which an artificial intelligence performs improvised scenes with the other actors.

Show

A little robot called Alex presents the show alongside a human presenter. Alex quickly admits that they want to play along, and is allowed to perform a scene with a human companion. The AI operator types what the human says, such that the Alex can generate appropriate responses to the scene.

Because their robot body is limited however, Alex is granted a human body. This human cyborg is only allowed to say the words Alex whispers through their ear piece. At the end of the show, all human performers carry an ear piece, and the audience has to guess who was controlled by the AI.

More information about our show can be found on ERLNMYR website.

An performer improvising a scene with robot Alex
An performer improvising a scene with robot Alex

International History

The concept was originally worked out by Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson, and later got adapted into different versions in the Improbotics UK, Canada, Sweden and Flanders.

Creating the Dutch AI

One of my contributions to the project was coming up with methods for playing this traditionally English show in Dutch. This meant that we had to find a way to create a general Dutch language model, preferably as similar to the GPT-2 model as possible.

Given that no Dutch GPT-2 model existed at the time, and the project not having the enormous budget required to train a Dutch GPT-2 model from scratch, we used a translation service on top of the default GPT-2, giving astounishly great results.

Due to Improbotics Flanders being a larger production than its international counterparts, we also required a completely new and stable interface for our needs. I build an interface from scratch that was able to control the scripted presenter parts of the show, connect with the GPT-2 model in Dutch and move the robot along with these actions. Since Improbotics Flanders plays in multiple languages, it also allows to easily change the language, adjusting the translation component and the presenter's script. The new interface also aimed to be more intuitively controllable by people from a less technological and more artistic background.

Responses screen. The operator enters scene sentences at the top, and filters generated responses below. Pressing a sentences will make Alex say the sentence out loud, or whisper it in a human cyborg's ear, depending on the type of scene.
Responses screen. The operator enters scene sentences at the top, and filters generated responses below. Pressing a sentences will make Alex say the sentence out loud, or whisper it in a human cyborg's ear, depending on the type of scene.
Presenter script screen. Players can easily activate the next line by clicking or pressing space, which will make Alex say the next line and make them change their pose.
Presenter script screen. Players can easily activate the next line by clicking or pressing space, which will make Alex say the next line and make them change their pose.
Settings screen for changing the language, Alex' voice and variables in the script.
Settings screen for changing the language, Alex' voice and variables in the script.

Controlling the robot

Due to technical limitations of the existing robot controller with the technological setup of the show, we had to come up with a new way of move the robot and their eyes. Together with Sebastiaan "DrSkunk" Jansen, we reverse-engineered the robot's protocol, and created a new way to send eye and body commands to the robot. In our new interface, we also linked the action commands to the lines in the presentation script, and also linked random movements to the generated responses.

Our show received lots of lovely and positive reactions from the press (see below) as well as from the audience.

View Improbotics Flanders

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