Interactive fiction writing is a pretty niche market, but it's one that we can't seem to get enough of. Imagine how many more hours of Choose Your Own Adventure-style entertainment our kids could get lost in, if we could just build robots to write these stories. Guess what? We can.
That's right: Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are hard at work on an artificial intelligence program that can build interactive fiction — a la Choose Your Own Adventure and Twine — by reading stories written by humans and studying their narrative structures. Dubbed "Scheherazade-IF" (interactive fiction) after the fabled Arabic storyteller, the AI is able to create interactive fiction that a group of (human) readers found both coherent and engaging.
To train Scheherazade, the researchers had the bot read hundreds of human-authored stories on two popular subjects: bank robberies and date nights at the movies. The program doesn't understand the stories per se, but it can recognise important events and learn their sequence. For instance, when it reads a bunch of stories referencing movie popcorn, it learns that popcorn is something people like to buy at the movies, and that they do so before the movie starts.
In a research paper presented this week at the Foundations of Digital Games Conference, Scheherazade's engineers asked readers to judge the AI's writing skills. Three test groups played through two interactive stories — one on bank robberies, and one on going to the movies — generated by Scheherazade, a human programmed "perfect script" generator, and a random storyteller. They asked readers to report the number of commonsense errors — i.e. scenes out of sequence — and rank the stories in terms of their overall enjoyment level and coherence.
For the bank robbery story, the AI system performed as well as the perfect storyteller, while for the movie data scenario, it scored some 17% lower. In both cases, Scheherazade was much more eloquent than the random story generator. Human-programmed and AI storytellers received similar marks in terms of coherence, player involvement, enjoyment and story recognition.
At the moment, the researchers are paying people to write the stories Scheherazade is learning from using simple sentence structures. But eventually, the bot might develop to the point where it can read complex human novels, and remix them into interactive stories.
You know what this means, right? The Star Wars universe is about to get infinitely more expansive.