Saturday, 7. May 2005

What is a character?

Here are some examples of characters that have been spawned by the cultural meme called AI: Isaac Asimov's robots, John McCarthy's thinking machines, HAL, CYC, Data, Eliza.

Here's what Marlon Brando, well known as a Method actor, said about characters:
Nobody "becomes" a character. You can't act unless you are who you are.
Character is as Actor does. Anatoly G. Antohin, theatre director and scholar (profile, resume), outlines the relationship between Characters and Actors in this way:
There are many great characters, thanks to great playwrights. Your business is not [only] to deliver their texts, but to use it as a material too. And you have to know HOW to do it, how to USE it.

So, you have to use both -- the text and yourself!
OK - how can we create virtual Actors who can use a playwright's text and themselves to create Characters? What does the advice to "use both -- the text and yourself" mean when "yourself" is the text itself?

That is the $64000 question.

Turing 1950

Of course, the "human-made virtual actor" meme has had a long run in the history of literature, engineering, and art. However, the AI meme, which I regard as being a special case of the former, is quite a bit shorter, and its start coincides with the time when digital computers first became available outside of the confines of the military-scientific complex which had bounded them up until.. well, around 1950, actually. That year, the feeling was: "We finally have the technology!"

To do what, exactly? Alan Turing, the British scientist who had published about what is known as the Turing Machine three years earlier, devised of the Imitation Game in 1950: an interrogator chats online with a woman and a man who pretends to be a woman; the interrogator's task in the game is to find out who the real woman is. Candidate A, the man, is instructed to always lie; candidate B, the woman, is instructed to always tell the truth.
We now ask the question, 'What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?' Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, 'Can machines think?'
That's the Actor idea right there. So my Assumption #2 is actually Turing's:

HumanActor = VirtualActor

Some have noted that the question now seems to be "Can machines lie?" instead of "Can machines think?". Somewhat more constructively, I'd like to pose it as "Can machines fake honesty?" As actor, writer and producer George Burns has noted:
The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

Meyerhold and Stanislawski

Vsevolod Meyerhold was a Russian actor and theatre director who sought a theatre capable of revealing "inner dialogue by means of the music of plastic movement" (Meyerhold on Theatre, Edward Braun). Together with Konstantin Stanislavski, he revolutionized professional acting in the early 20th century - for actors who are humans, that is. One of the questions that I'm interested in discussing in this blog is whether the tools and exercises that human actors and directors have derived from Meyerhold's and Stanislavski's insights since the 1930's can help us today in creating actors that are non-human - virtual actors.

So here's my Assumption #2:

Actor = HumanActor | VirtualActor

Put less formally, I assume that a human actor can be substituted by a human-made, virtual actor.

What's your creation?

I regard a bot that I create primarily as an Actor.

I define Actor using "Meyerhold's formula":

Actor = Creator + Medium

For my current purpose, I define Medium as:

Medium = AIML

However, the language choice is largely arbitrary: AIML can be substituted by any computational language or system that is Turing-complete. It's a generalized process that I'm interested in; a high-level representation of that process could be written as:

Creator creates Actor using Medium


Hello world. My name is Dirk Scheuring, and I create chatbots (a.k.a. chatterbots, bots, talking robots, conversational characters, interactive characters, etc.). Bots are a form of Artificial Intelligence - AI, for short. To write my bots, I use a programming language called Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML). Together with Anne Kootstra, I founded, a website which distributes (mainly) FOSS tools and information about their use to AIML authors/programmers.

The awkward compound term "AIML authors/programmers" warrants some attention: in the academic "discipline" (or "cross-discipline", or "meta-discipline", or whatever) called AI, there's a budding "sub-discipline" called Narrative Intelligence, and it's there where my interest in AI is focused. There are various definitions, by various people, of what NI is, or could be. More than in definitions, however, I'm interested in working examples.

Today, most of the people who come up with such examples seem to emerge from one of two professional backgrounds: they start their self-education in designing and implementing interactive characters as either authors or programmers. In terms of science as a whole, authors can be categorized as belonging to the humanities culture ("author" as synonym to "storyteller"), and programmers as belonging to the natural sciences culture ("programmer" as synonym to "engineer"). To make a long story short: I believe that, to create the best possible chatbots, a botmaster has to have and use both storytelling and engineering skills. So here's my Assumption #1:

author = programmer = Creator

That means from on here, I see neither authors nor programmers - I only see Creators.

Recent Comments

I feel fine.
I know someone will comment on it soon :-) Theatre...
scheuring - 14. Jun, 10:24
How do you feel when...
How do you feel when you receive no comments? How can...
Magical - 14. Jun, 09:19
Thanks, Brian,
for this interesting invitation. Since, by your own...
scheuring - 15. May, 10:33
AI-Foundation Panel
Dirk, I like the thinking. Because of that expertise,...
Brian Hoecht - 13. May, 22:05
you're welcome.
scheuring - 29. Apr, 16:29
thanks scheuring!
Cool, that seems to cover most of the basics. Definitely...
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About five years ago (pre-ProgramD), the "standard"...
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