Starting out from a database of stories, a software programme is now able to invent its own original – and unpredictable – storylines.
For some time now artificial intelligence (AI) has been capable of telling stories, sometimes even quite complicated narratives. However, the drawback has been that they are usually entirely predictable. Now a researcher at the University of Central Florida has developed a software programme, called Xapagy, which is able to come up with original storylines. Xapagy’s inventor, Lotzi Bölöni, an associate professor at the University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is aiming to “imitate human cognitive activity used in story creation.” To achieve this, Bölöni has given Xapagy an artificial memory which the software draws on to imagine how a storyline might run. To demonstrate how this works, he uses the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. First of all he had to manually translate the 500 words of the story into a language that could be understood by the software.
A memory equivalent to that of a four-year old
Lotzi Bölöni therefore reconstructed the famous Brothers Grimm tale into twelve separate scenes, each with its associated characters and verbs. Some scenes follow one another sequentially, others are independent of the storyline flow. The system is also fed with a number of stories which relate to the basic tale in some respect – stories of carnivorous animals, of conversations, of the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, etc. The objective is to create a sort of memory in the software that is “equivalent to that of a four-year old child.” From this memory base the software draws action sequences and can find logical connections between the various events. From a story of a lion eating a gazelle or a fox attacking a sheep, Xapagy is able to deduce that the wolf might eat the young girl when they are put together in the same scene.
Creating something new
Bölöni warns that “Xapagy cannot judge whether or not a story is logical or coherent. That’s not what it has been designed for.” However the software is capable of creating novel sequences. It therefore turns out that in the AI variant of the well-known storyline, the wolf is chatting with Little Red Riding Hood when suddenly the animal sneezes – a perfectly logical thing to happen if the action of sneezing has already appeared in one of the stories recorded in the software database. And since the wolf has sneezed, Little Red Riding Hood quite reasonably exclaims “Bless you!” Now that’s a little detail that the Brothers Grimm never thought of.