WHY DO WE WANT TO TEACH MACHINES HOW TO TELL STORIES?
People have been telling stories since before we could write; we’re natural storytellers. So if machines were able to tell and understand stories as well, we’d be able to communicate with them more naturally. We’re starting to adopt conversational personal assistants – like Alexa or Siri – as a society, but these computers still don’t actually know how to converse. The most effective and personal way people have of conversing is by telling stories.
SO TEACHING AN AI TO TELL STORIES COULD IMPROVE OUR LIVES AND TECHNOLOGY?
A lot of people don’t realise how much nearly everything we say is a story, or could be framed as a story. I like imagining that you could just talk to your personal assistant, and it would work with you to figure something out. Like maybe you’re planning a birthday party for your kid, and you tell it “Hey, I’m planning a party for Gina’s 10th birthday. Can you help me?” and it can create a story about this party: “Every good party starts with cake. You could get a cake at the local grocery store, and then while you’re there buy some balloons. Once you’ve set up the decorations...” and so on. The assistant could collaborate with you to come up with this party narrative until you’re happy with it. I think there’s a lot of cool potential for human-AI collaboration here.
WHERE DO YOU START? AND WHAT ARE THE LAYERS YOU NEED TO BUILD TO TEACH AN AI ABOUT TELLING STORIES?
There are a couple of ways to start. Most modern techniques start with a tonne of stories. You collect or find a bunch of stories, and run them through an algorithm that memorises patterns in the stories, such as fighting the dragon usually comes before saving the princess, for example. Then you – the human – come up with the first sentence of the story and it’ll spit out the rest. These systems tend to be really good at generating brand new, grammatical English sentences, but they just ramble on and forget what they were talking about after a little while.
The earlier techniques – which some people are still working on – take a lot more effort to make. These researchers sit down and come up with all of the possible plot points in a story world and how they would connect. The system would then plan out a path to take through these plot points in order to create a story.
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