The Atomic Playboy and the Radiation Romeo

The button below will open a new browser window displaying the Flash interface for Atomic and Romeo (Version 16 with Preloader). You will find a page of introductory text, some instructions and then the interface where you can suggest a topic for conversation.

This version 16 uses the landscape layout, updates the heckler and end-of-conversation functions with an audio sign-off. All the features from previous versions remain - scroll bar control,custId variable allows me to better log and track conversations.

The chat-bots are hosted on the Pandorabots server under the Shared Service subscription. Please note, the terms of the Updated Policy Guidelines for Free Community Server state that the “Use of automated scripts to make your pandorabot talk to itself or another bot or script” is proscribed (Pandorabots 2011). This project is being developed with the agreement of the Pandorabots Inc management and we would like to acknowledge their support. ( Pandorabots )

Please leave a comment...

After you have had a play with Atomic and Romeo please use this link to leave a comment.
Maybe you could suggest a topic of conversation or a layout suggestion.
All suggestions gratefully received.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Literature Review Plan

The reading is slowly progressing. My search for an accessible text that introduces Raskin and Attardo linguistic theory has yielded surprising results. Victor Raskin has edited a Humor Theory Primer 2008. I've only read part of the introduction but it seems to be a 672 page literary review! It covers the historical development of humour research from multiple disciplines as well as dealing, in some detail, with the material I was looking for. The version I've found is through Ebooks Library - for as little as $176 I can get a PDF version of the beast. This seems like a good start for Christmas reading.

To be honest, the size of the literature review seems to be growing with every page I read. This seems to be the normal course of events.
However, the over-all plan is roughly as follows:

1. Humour Theory - an historical overview incorporating contributions from psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, communication, literary criticism, mathematics etc. Philosophy needs to get a guernsey due to Bergson's contribution to the field - even if it isn't the most accepted theory in the current debates.

2. Artificial Intelligence - again an historical overview that traces the development of natural language agents. Largely this would deal with Reeves and Nass Media Equation, its detractors; the Turing Test, and its detractors. The aim is to situate my work outside Artificial Intelligence Computer Science domain and place it in a media context.

3. Scriptwriting - I'm undecided about this section covering heuristic comedy writing texts - these usually have some very loose basis in a theoretical perspective but they tend not to have much credibility in academic circles. Also, I'm hard pressed to think of an example that isn't inextricably tied to a single media form, e.g. writing for TV or radio or film etc.

4. Creativity research - This I would also approach from an historical perspective coming to a conclusion that a confluence model of creativity that incorporates the individual, social and cultural elements is most appropriate for academic research. Would this section be better used as an overarching theoretical perspective, particularly if I can make a successful hybrid with Actor Network Theory (a colleague has recently pointed me at a good resource for this)?

Is all of this possible in 10000 - 12000 words and in two months? I'm hoping that January will be largely clear for writing. Realistically I don't think I can get all of tis done. But the first section is the one I would like to attack first - I feel this is my weakest area and I need to get some handle on it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

ECA Forefront Conference - 2009

Two weeks ago I delivered a presentation to the Early Career Academic conference at the University of Newcastle. The presentation was largely an updated version of my PhD confirmation presentation. The updated sections included an expanded overview of theories of humour and a discussion of how to implement a pair of chat bots.

The feedback was quite positive. However, the feedback that surprised me was that my audience (mostly people from a Science and IT background, with some Communication folk) were interested in the idea of empirical testing. How will I know that the bot interchanges are funny? How can this be tested? Should I use a test audience as part of my research? Should I ask 'experts' (members of the 'field' to use Csikszentmihalyi's term) like stand-up comedians and writers to give their opinion?

This is not something that I had initially planned. And I'm in two minds about it. At this stage I would prefer not to go down this path. Rather, I plan to use an established technique for understanding the structure of humorous exchanges, something like the linguistic / discourse techniques of Raskin and Salvatore (SSTH - Script Theory and/or GTVH - General Theory of Verbal Humor).

This will develop with more reading in the area.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Which way to handle the brains

Part of the work I've been doing over the past couple of week has been devoted to planning how to get the bots to talk to each other.

Option 1: This involves using two web servers, one for each character. Each would have a version of the Alicebot 'engine' (ProgramD version or Charliebot) and have its own AIML set. The timing of the interchanges would be controlled through a Flash interface.

Option 2: This calls for only one instance of the Alicebot 'engine' and uses the Flash interface to swap from one AIML set to the other. Both Dick and Detail Boy share the 'engine' but the outputs would be predicated on which 'mind' is being used.
At the moment, this sounds the most practical.

Option 3: I had a brief infatuation with the idea of creating a version of the 'engine' entirely in Flash in Actionscript 3.0. This would have allowed the greatest flexibility but would have soon become a programing and management nightmare. A colleague talked me out of it - thanks to Dr Keith Nesbitt.

In later posts I'm going to explain why I've chosen to base my work on the Alicebot 'engine' and AIML rather than other chatbot structures.

Yet another triumvirate...

Today I was asked to give a guest lecture into a game development course. The topic of the lecture was character development and artificial intelligence in computer games.

During the lecture I drew on concepts from Reeves and Nass'
Media Equation. The idea that a computer can be substituted for a person in a psychological test and the test yields the same results really intrigues me. The shorthand for expressing this equivalence between the human and the machine is: x = y.

As I was going through this material in the lecture it occurred that I had made a similar argument in my PhD confirmation document. In that document I'd quoted Henri Bergson. Henri Bergson in his seminal essay on laughter stated a "new law" of humour, "We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing" (Bergson 2005, p.28, Original Publication 1911). This project integrates human agency (the scriptwriter and the scriptwriting process) with the non-human agency of the artificial intelligence of chatbots (the interface and the scripted processes). As such, it tests if Bergson's law will stand if it is inverted; will we laugh every time a thing gives the impression of being a person? Again, this tests the x = y logic.

The third arm of this triumvirate of ideas is the concept of the "Uncanny Valley" by Mori.
"Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion".

My ambition is to create chat-bot characters that can perform humour interchanges and if humour is one of the defining features of 'human-ness' then for a computer to truly be a social actor it must be able to engage in novel, surprising and humorous exchanges. Will my characters fall into the uncanny valley? Will success be measured by the degree of repulsion?

This triumvirate of ideas: The Media Equation; Bergson's 'New Law'; and, Mori's 'Uncanny Valley' all appear to be trying to find a way of describing the hazy boundary between the human and the non-human.

Bergson, Henri. 2005. Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic. Translated by C. Brereton and F. Rothwell. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc. Original edition, 1911, The Macmillan Company, New York.

Mori, Masahiro (1970). Bukimi no tani The uncanny valley (K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato, Trans.). Energy, 7(4), 33–35. (Originally in Japanese)

Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. 1996. The Media Equation: how people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. New York: Cambridge University Press.

PhD Topic - Development of humour in artificial intelligence agents.


This project is composed of two parts: a creative project; and, an exegesis. The following sections will describe the planned development trajectory for the creative project and outline the contents and contribution of the exegesis. A chatbot (chatter-robot, talk-bot, or simply, bot) is a computer-based conversational agent that simulates natural language conversation. The creative project will develop a pair of online chatbots that will interact as ‘comedian’ and ‘straight man’ when a human user delivers a topic.

The project is uniquely positioned to offer an examination of the unstable frontier between the human and non-human. It is an interrogation of the scriptwriting process as it is applied in a new media, online environment as a confluence of human and non-human agency. The rationale for concentrating on humour is that “Humour is by far the most significant behaviour of the human mind” (de Bono 1990, p.13). Simon Critchley argues, “humour is an anthropological constant… There has been no society thus far discovered that did not have humour (2002, p.28). The exploration of humour provides the opportunity to explore “what it means to be human by moving back and forth across the [unstable] frontier that separates humanity from animality” and by extension, the frontier between the human and the non-human in general (2002, p.28). Henri Bergson in his seminal essay on laughter stated a “new law” of humour, “We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing” (Bergson 2005, p.28, Original Publication 1911).

This project integrates human agency (the scriptwriter and the scriptwriting process) with the non-human agency of the artificial intelligence of chatbots (the interface and the scripted processes). As such, it tests if Bergson’s law will stand if it is inverted; will we laugh every time a thing gives the impression of being a person? Further, and importantly, it examines the unstable frontier between the human and the non-human to offer an insight into the boundary negotiation at the frontier.

This then frames the primary research question: What processes does the new media scriptwriter need to employ when developing a singular assemblage that exists at the unstable frontier between the human and non-human.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The first of many...

This blog will be used to as a production journal for my PhD research into the development of humour in artificial intelligence agents. The plan is to script an interface where two AIML based chatbots will discuss a topic presented by the viewer.

Well that's the plan so far...