Good Cop Bad Cop on the origins of cleverbot

Posted on: 08 Mar 2013 by Good Cop Bad Cop

Mewn Sgwrs / In Conversation

The beginning. (briefly). As a company  that in twenty plus years hasn’t written material to perform as such we were interested in other forms of text writing…

John’s son was playing about on software that would read out text on the computer in a number of voices….Text-to-speech software….Pursued that for a while, getting it to read bits of text that we were interested in…lists, pdf’s…all sorts of stuff…even bits of plays….real plays… we were creating a whole cast of characters, manipulating the software as much as we could….finding ways to make it ‘feel’/'sound’ more human….to make it seem like the voice was thinking…breaking up lines of speech…slowing it down and speeding it up and so on.

This was part of our work for NTW’s WalesLab…this led to the world of artificial intelligence apps and on to Cleverbot…Could we create a playtext generated by a computer/robot and be performed by robots/computers…

We started having long conversations of up to an hour with Cleverbot. Enjoying the unpredictable results. It suited the way we make and perform our shows generally. Find a device or concept that can hold the thing together, that allows us to improvise material within that. We like it that we don’t know what is coming next. It sometimes really feels like a struggle but at other times you can enjoy it…play with it…create whole scenarios…as Kaite O’Reilly said when she came in to work with us…it’s a bit like Beckett meets Gertrude Stein meets Colonel Mustard on the cathedral steps with the candlestick meets robots.

For this performance we felt it necessary that we were the voices of the robot…for the questioner and the responder. Mike Pearson said he loved the piece but got frustrated sometimes that it (the robot) wasn’t as funny as us!!!! But we like it like that…sometimes it takes a while to get a pay off but if you stick with the sometimes monotonous bits you then get the reward.

There is a serious side to this…this technology, having been set in motion, can only snowball…its easy to see how in a few years time call centres could replace their staff with bots…a learning technology is entirely dependent on who it learns from…what they are talking about, the language they use…we like the idea that we might, in our small way, be able to infect this future brain with some of our interests and attitude…

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