It's a very difficult thing to talk about Artificial Intelligence Improvisation by Human Machine. I stepped out from the theatre and turned to my showgoing companion and we both just laughed. We had no idea what we had just seen.
It sounds exceptionally strange. It is exceptionally strange.
Two self-identifying nerds, Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson use genuine computer wizardry with an on-stage robot capable of speech recognition and spontaneous dialogue. They then attempt to do improvised comedy. They ask for scenarios and create a unique comedy experience with their machine companion. Veering wildly between moments of cringe-inducing strangeness and total hilarity, it is a show that must be seen to be understood.
It sounds exceptionally strange. It is exceptionally strange. On stage is a small robot assisted by a computer system known as A.L.Ex (Artificial Language Experiment). After spending quite a while explaining the details of how the show came about and assuring you that the technology on display is genuine, the real ‘show’ begins. However, not only are we watching partially robotic improvisation, but also Kory joins us VIA webcam from Canada. Therefore, the show becomes a transatlantic-robotic-webcam-improvisation comedy. Now even Fringe theatre is getting automated.
There are so many things that can go wrong here and frankly, sometimes they do. It is the nature of all improv comedy that some performances can descend into weirdness and bad jokes. The longer it goes back and forth between Kory and Piotr the more you feel the performance is slipping away, but A.L.Ex often swoops in to save the day. Sometimes it says something that is so relevant and funny that it is quite eerie. Other times it just talks complete nonsense. Despite the humans best efforts to be gentle and friendly improv comedians, A.L.Ex had different ideas and attempted to make a suicide pact with Piotr during a scene. This show will be completely different for every watcher and I am sure there are times when the machine breaks or the webcam link fails, and Piotr warns us this has and can happen.
The more A.L.Ex interacts the better and the weakest moment of the show is when Piotr and Kory put him aside to do some standard improv. The genius of the robot is in the way it addresses the flaws of improv comedies and gives them a reason to go to weird places and say weird things. One brilliant set piece is when they put the robot avatar aside and bring up an audience member and make them say whatever dialogue the program generates.
This performance was ridiculous. There were times when it was difficult to watch as the machine went silent or temporarily broke down and there was little improvisation around it. Kory and Piotr are perhaps scientists first and actors second. However, the idea here is magnificent. There are so many laughs to be found with this formula and, with improvements both from our scientists and A.L.Ex, this could be revolutionary.