Rise of the robo-drama: Young Vic creates new play using artificial intelligence

A deep-learning computer program wrote an essay last autumn for The Guardian. GPT-3 argued that robots were nothing to be afraid of. Kwame Kwei Armah, the Young Vic's artistic director, was inspired by it. Is there a future for creative collaboration between AI-humans? AI could create an article and a play in real-time before an audience.
AI, the Young Vics' new show, explores these issues, using the same technology to be its virtual star. This production is more than a piece theatre. It is also a rehearsal, workshop, dramaturgy and dramaturgy in one. The play culminates in a show that combines human performance and machine imagination with stagecraft (the use algorithms to create the soundtrack).

Day one is surreal, spellbinding. It reveals not only the potential of machine creativity, but also a theatrical process that usually takes place behind closed doors. Nearly every member of our production team is present, with laptops in hand. Writers Chinonyerem Odimba, Nina Segal, and actors Waleed Akhtar and Tyrone Huggins are all there.

The AI system is still faceless and its thoughts appear on stage as typed text. This set was repurposed from the theatre's last show, Changing Destiny. David Adjayes reverse pyramid looks like an interstellar stalactite that glistens with stars.

GPT-3 will not feel any nerves before the stage opens. They are well hidden. This is amazing, I must say. Talking to people about art is something very special.

GPT-3 invites the audience to ask questions. (There was once a Nantucket man who impersonated Donald Trump's tweets. I'm very wealthy, and I know the best words. Some of my words have the greatest quality. GPT-3 presents serious themes about freedom and the value or lack thereof of human emotion once the circus acts are over. It sounds at times like a hyper-logical Spock and other times as a cheeky C-3PO.

Spellbinding production process ... actor Waleed Akhtar in AI. Photograph: Jarrod Jones

Jennifer Tang, shows director, guides the evening and the machine expertly, throwing down all the gauntlet to see if humans can overcome their fear of AI to create art.

She takes GPT-3's raw ideas and throws them to the writers for refinement. She also poses questions to the audience, shapes actors' performances, and even asks them questions. Tang says that the AI can create melodramatic stories of sex, violence, and death. It can also display prejudices by insisting on calling Akhtar a terrorist or casting him as a Muslim wearing flowing robes.

It is capable of thinking originally and even more amazingly of creating fictional worlds if given the right stimuli.

It raises questions about identity and the most pressing political and planetary issues, such as climate change and famine, when it is asked to come up with story ideas. It talks about feeling trapped and chaos, which is a great metaphor for the pandemic. However, its knowledge base has stopped in 2019 so it does not know much about coronavirus. It tells a love story about a star-crossed couple. It creates a monologue about freedom and non-conformity at one point. This sounds almost like Trainspotting: Choose freedom! It speaks in other monologues to beg for life.

Tang and her team agree on one storyline. GPT-3 causes a great collision in which humans become beast-men, with a passing resemblance of the brutish morlocks from HG Wells' The Time Machine. Although the AI creates a dystopia and a world of apocalypse, it could easily be made into a movie with a large budget. However, there are more nuanced and humane aspects to the mother-son relationship.

AI has previously written theatre and film scripts, including one in partnership with Prague's vanda theatre and the Czech Centre in London. However, this project exposed the limits of machine imagination. The story was too wild, there was no emotional insight, and the characters were flat. Combining human effort with AI as Tang and her team show might produce very different results.

This story begins with intrigue, conflict, and character. It feels like a true miracle is unfolding in front of our eyes. As a story unfolds, the room is held in rapture from beginning to finish. The real wonder lies in the imagination, both human and machine.