“If I were introduced to a show like this as a kid, I would definitely have paid more attention to science class.”Phoenix Remix, Brighton Fringe, 2019
What do words like ‘art’, ‘creativity’ and ‘humour’ mean in the era of smart technology and self-learning algorithms? Can a robot ever make theatre and if so, what does this non-human theatre look like? Let’s see what Alex — the robot of Improbotics — makes of it.
Although our robot starts off by performing in the show, the Improbotics players take it one step further rather quickly. All performers are wearing an earpiece with which they can receive Alex’s lines directly into their ears. When Alex takes control of the show like an invisible director and starts puppeteering one of the players as a ‘cyborg’, the audience sometimes doesn’t even know who is controlled by artificial intelligence and who is using their own free will to speak.
Improbotics was developed by computer scientists Piotr Mirowski (UK) and Kory Mathewson (Canada). They built an artificially intelligent chatbot based on models of how language works. These models are created by a computer learning on huge amounts of text with 1,5 billion parameters and a dataset of 8 million webpages. This software can create text by predicting words based on all the previously used words. By finetuning these models on the subtitles of more than 100,000 movies, Alex can not only generate words into sentences, but also talk in dialogues.
Cast: Rishi Panchasara, Charlotte De Metsenaere, Gilles Delvaulx, Kelly Agathos, Ben Hartwig, Ann Claes, Magali Minet, Alain Rinckhout and Ben Verhoeven (in changing combinations)
Director: Ben Verhoeven
Scenography: Robin Decoster
Dramaturgy: Imre Spoor
Costume design: Lotte Cools
Illustrations: Koen Van Den Eeckhout
Technician: Jesse Steurs
Technological support: Thomas Winters and Sebastiaan Jansen
Concept: the Improbotics consortium, consisting of Kory Mathewson, Piotr Mirowski, Jenny Elfving and Ben Verhoeven
Improbotics is available in Dutch and English. It’s an inspiring show for organisations and companies, as well as a school show for the 3rd to 6th year of secondary school. In school year 2021–2022 the show is part of Technopolis on Tour, so schools can contact Technopolis for bookings. Other organisations, companies or festivals can book the show via: firstname.lastname@example.org