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.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bergson - agency and structure

In his essay of 1911 Bergson proposes a ‘new law’ of humour, “We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing” (2005, p.28). In this project his ‘law’ will be tested by inversion; will we laugh every time a thing gives us the impression of being a person? Further, will the incongruity of our impression oscillating between the human and the non-human call forth a shared anxiety that we have about media technology?

Bergson's concept of the mechanical encrusted ('plastered' may be a better translation of the original French) on the human is analogous to the relationship between agency and structure. The individual's agency is, for want of a better term, their free will - their ability to act in the world by making choices that have real consequences. The mechanical is then all of the structures of the world. These structures are typically described by rules and laws: the laws of physics, the rules of language, the rules of etiquette, and even the rule of law. Cartoon 'violence' toys with laws of physics - the coyote lives and dies as a result of these laws. The pun, the malaprop and the double entendre are manipulations of the laws of language. Borat shatters the rules of etiquette. The Keystone Cops, Top Cat's Officer Dibble, Rumpole of the Bailey, and so many others expose the farcical nature of the rule of law.

Giddens concept of 'structuration' brings agency and structure together - each dependent of the other. A kind of co-dependent marriage. There is a deep level of incongruity between agency and structure. Not all incongruity leads to comedy but is it a necessary if not satisfactory condition.

Bergson was talking about these subterranean incongruities.

Henri Bergson, Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A little success story

Two bots are now up and running on Pandorabots. I created a new one today called Detayle Bhoy. The initial bot is currently called MMM, however, he responds as Mr Dick Trickster.

The reason for starting up the second bot... I've got the Flash interface working. The output from one becomes the input for the other and so on... I had to build a StopMe button just to get the to shut up! They are completely nonsensical at the moment. As the 'conversations' go on they tend to generate multi-sentence / multi-line replies. These in turn generate even more milti-sentence text that is nearly always bizarrely self referential. This is something I'll serious need to address in the AIML sets. I may even try to kill of 'second sentence' categories.

As these bots share a common base of AIML there is also a lot of recursion going on. This too is something I'll have to edit out.

Jobs for another day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More bot technology...

The actionscript by Jamie Durrant is really useful. I initially managed to get it to talk to one bot. Today, I rewrote the code and copied the interface so that I can have access to two bots in the one interface (I've called the file - Cool, and fairly painless. The next trick is use the variables to create the interaction. Now that I have a variable for the output of one I should be able to feed it to the input of the other. This will probably require an 'on completion' function so that incomplete lines of dialogue don't get fed through the system. Anyway, that's a job for another day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bot technology ... continued

Today I uploaded a Flash .swf file to a local server (one I normally use for teaching). The file, based on Jamie Durrant's work, is a chatbot interface that talks to a test bot I have running on the Pandorabots site. It appears to be working quite well with none of the security issues I got when trying to run it from a local machine. Speed is the only problem. Occasionally, the response from the Pandorabot site is a little slow... Maybe I could script a 'filler' output to fill out the wait time if it gets too long.

The URL for the test bot is - Talk to Dick at Pandorabots

Have a play and feel free to add a comment.

Summer School report

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be going through my notes from the Summer School and adding some posts about the lecture series content.

Suffice to say, at the moment, this was without a doubt the valuable research related experience of my academic career.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

10th International Summer School and Symposium on Humour and Laughter
University of Zurich

July 5 - 10, 2010

I've submitted an abstract for the Symposium. Hopefully, it will be accepted. I'd like to test some of the ideas on this audience.

Title: Testing an inversion of Bergson’s ‘new law’ of humour.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence, scriptwriting, agency, humour.

This presentation offers an overview of a PhD project that interrogates of the scriptwriting process as it is applied in a new media, online environment as a confluence of human and non-human agency. The study is underpinned by the theoretical perspectives of humour theory, Actor Network Theory (Callon, Latour, Law et al), the Computers as Social Actors paradigm of Reeves and Nass, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity Theory. 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 (Critchley, 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 nonhuman 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?

  • Bergson, H. (2005). Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic. Mineola, New York, Dover Publications Inc.
  • Callon, M. (1999). Actor-network theory: The market test. In Law, J. & Hassard, J., eds. Actor network theory and after, pp. 181–95. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Critchley, S. (2002). On Humour: Thinking in Action. New York and London, Routledge.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, Harper Collins.
  • Reeves, B. and C. Nass (1996). The Media Equation: how people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Conference papers etc.

The abstracts below have been accepted for upcoming conferences.

Conference – New Directions in the Humanities - 2010

Title: Humour Theory and Conversational Agents: An application of humour theory in the development of computer-based, conversational agents.

Much of the literature on the development of conversational agents comes from the domain of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) (Buchanan 2008; Cassell et al. 2000; Laurel 1993; Reeves and Nass 1996). The Computers Are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm suggests that a user will respond to a computer-based conversational agent in the same manner they would respond to a real person (Nass, Isbister, and Lee 2000). Shechtman and Horowitz, although critical of the conclusions of the CASA paradigm, suggest there is an “inextricable link between the use of natural language and social interaction. Perhaps relationship behaviors are simply difficult to filter out of communication and may arise as an artefact of using natural language in a conversational situation” (2003, p.288). Whether computers and humans are equal social actors or not may be an unnecessary distinction if the use of natural language is alone sufficient to generate the perception of social interaction and personality. 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. This paper surveys a range of humour theories in search of a theory that can be applied to interactions of computer-based conversational agents.

Conference – Arts in Society - 2010

Title: Scripting Humour in Conversational Agents: Improvisation and Emergence of Humorous Interchanges

This paper describes a creative project that will develop a pair of online computer-based conversational agents to interact as ‘comedian’ and ‘straight man’. The project will interrogate the scriptwriting process as it is applied in a new media environment at the confluence of human and non-human agency. In the context of this paper the term ‘scriptwriter’ carries two inter-related definitions: first, as a producer and crafter of dialogue for a character; and second, as a developer of computer script to guide the interactions of the conversational agents. It can be argued that the scriptwriter (in both guises) is part of a larger system of circular causality and is thus embedded within structures that both constrain and enable their actions (Boden 1994, 2004; Bourdieu 1993; Giddens 1979) makes intentional choices to achieve particular aims or outcomes. The interaction of the conversational agents is a result of a creative practice that allows for the emergence of improvised responses based on scripted dialogue choices. This paper will explore the inter-related issues of: scriptwriting; emergence; and, improvisation in a new media environment.

Bot Technology

The implementation of a pair of bots remains problematic. Not for the same reasons as before - those were purely technical. That sort of problem can be addressed with a combination of tenacity, research, expert networking, and cash. Having tried all of these approaches I now have a couple of viable solutions.

The first is to 'employ' the computing research guys at Newcastle to set up the bots on a research server. The only downside to that solution is that I would be need to develop a work method for writing and updating the AIML sets. Being one step removed from owning the server I would need to be get some kind of administrator access - this is not the sort of thing server admin people are very keen on.

The second is to use the 'commercial' site that provides the Pandorabot. I already have a test bot up there and I've found an Flash/Actionscript interface (thanks to Jamie Durrant) that will talk to the Pandorabot server. Cool! This is one comparatively small step away from have two Pandorabot accounts and using the Flash interface to throw output to input from one bot to the other. The advantage of Panadora bot is that I could easily update the AIML and be able to speak to each of the bots individually.

I'll keep playing with the Actionscript to see what I can do.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Humour Literature and the brick wall...

Through theory we examine practice: in practice we test theory.

My literature review of the domain of humour studies has two broad ambitions.

The link between theory and practice leads to the first ambition of the literature review. The creative work at the core of this research project, the development of humorous conversational agents, needs to be grounded in a theory of humour that can encompass the interaction of human and non-human actors. I feel Bergson's theory supplies this basis. I argue that his “new law” of comedy that states, “We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing” may be tested by being inverted (Bergson 2005, p.28, Original Publication 1911). That is, will we laugh when a thing gives the impression of being a person? Testing this argument in a creative work is a substantive addition to the field. The logic of undertaking such an inversion test is based on the “Computers as Social Actors” (CASA) paradigm.

Humour has been studied from various perspectives including the psychological, social and anthropological. Each of these domains has contributed a unique theoretical understanding. However, added to these academic understandings of humour are accounts of the practice of humour. For example, Cicero’s
De Oratore can be understood as an account of the verbal techniques used to promote a cause or defend a client. Likewise, Stephen Halliwell in the introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s Poetics argues that “The Poetics … represents something in the nature of teaching materials or ‘lecture notes’, produced not as a text for private reading by anyone interested, but for instructional use in an educational context” (Halliwell in Aristotle 1995, p.4). These texts, and more modern ones, provide an insight into the link between theory and practice.

The second ambition is to provide an overview of the existing literature. This overview is structured as a chronology to make explicit the historical order of the threads and concepts that have informed the current state of humour theory.

So far this all sounds 'cool and froody' to use a Zaphod Beeblebrox expression. Truth be told - I'm a lot more like Arthur Dent than the freewheeling Zaphod. I've developed a personal relationship with a brick wall - I keep hitting my head against it and it doesn't seem to mind in the slightest.

More on this later.

Friday, February 19, 2010

GTVH.. additional thoughts

Of late I've been battling with the age old question of authorial intention in relation to the semantic-script theory (or SSTH) of Raskin and the more developed general theory (or GTVH) of Attardo and Raskin.

I've been thinking about my supervisor's work on the structures of political speeches and, in particular, the speeches of Churchill. The semantic and linguistic structures look so much like the structures of humour. Couplets and triplets working, often using incongruous elements, to make a memorable and surprising statement. Maybe this is why they can be so easily parodied? This leads me to question whether the application of the General Theory of Verbal Humour presupposes the intention of the script or performance. Would the GTVH give a 'false positive' if applied to "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Anyway, these are the ongoing thoughts.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bots I have known...

This post is retrospective account of the technological work I've done in first three weeks of 2010.

The burning question remains... How do I get two bots to talk to each other?

My early attempts were with Program N (AIMLpad - This, after some considerable fiddling allowed me to see two bots talking. I had to learn some Perl scripting and get the memory allocations sorted out. However, in the end, it almost worked. Why only almost? It seems that if there is too much recursion in the AIML sets the script fails to generate a response. So, after a variable number of interchanges, the interaction would fall to blank lines.

I could have kept going down this path but I doubt I have the programming skills necessary to seriously sort the problems.

Also, I noted in the documentation that what the Perl script was doing was providing a means of imitating what a web server could do.

For that reason I decided to bit the bullet an have a serious look at Program D. I've run version 4.1.5 quite successfully - it uses a built in 'Jetty' mini-web server. Cool. Version 4.6 of Program D has had the web server removed to make it 'easier' to implement on a real server.

To get version 4.6 working on my Mac was a very steep learning curve. Eventually I fixed my local file association errors and got the simple GUI (Graphic User Interface) console working. There was much cheering! Then I started on the .war file - this is a web application that contains the 'engine' and the 'brain' of the bot. My logic was - If I can get one of these to work, then I can get two, then I can use Javascript or Actionscript (?) to get the two to talk to each other.

The process went something like this:
1. get Apache Tomcat server working on my machine.
2. get ANT ( a compiler program operating).
3. Recompile the .war file from my working version of Program D 4.6.
4. Deploy on Tomcat.

All good? Well I've got the .war to deploy but it's throwing an error message I can't yet understand.

I know so little about programming but I feel the need to know. The tools of the trade have an effect on the product - so I need to better know my tools.

More soon.

So far

Monday, January 18, 2010

Linguists approaches.. some notes

These are not fully formed thoughts... After doing some reading it has occurred to me that the Attardo / Raskin approach is predicated on a couple of not incontestable assumptions.

1. The Freudian distinct between "innocent'' and "tendentious'' jokes. I tend to have a Derida-esque dislike for binary oppositions. The General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH)tends to focus on tendentious humour by including a category for the butt of the joke or script.

2. The approach seems to assume that humour is easily and consistently recognised. We all know what humour is, right? What happens if GTVH is applied to a non-humorous text? Does it fail to find humorous structures? Or, does it only work on those text which are socially or culturally deemed to be humorous?

Just thoughts at this stage.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The more I read...

In The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton, talking about metaphors said Seneca believed that, "Arguments like eels: however logical, may slip from the mind's weak grasp unless fixed there by imagery and style. We need metaphors to derive a sense of what cannot be seen or touched, or else we will forget" (p.92).

Humour is a slippery and mercurial topic of study. The range of theoretical approaches is daunting. Disciplines as diverse as linguists, sociology, anthropology, psychology (in all of its many guises), communication, literary studies, and, even mathematics have contributed to the field. All of them, to greater or lesser degrees, lay claim to being at the centre of this funny universe.

What has occurred to me of late is that the study of humour may well be liken to the 'Wave Particle Duality' problem of physics. Light, and it seems all kinds of matter, can be viewed as being composed of particles or waves.

"As experiments were performed and evidence accumulated, the implications quickly became clear and alarming:

Light functions as both a particle and a wave, depending on how the experiment is conducted and when observations are made.
The most common interpretation is that the wave function represents the probability of finding a given particle at a given point... Particles end up distributed according to the probability laws, and therefore exhibit the wave properties. In other words, the probability of a particle being in any location is a wave, but the actual physical appearance of that particle isn't". (accessed 13/01/2010)

At times humour can be studied in the the most 'particular' manner - the linguistic approach of Raskin, Attardo, et al. This provides a very specific view of the inner working of a script. However, at other times, humour is studied as an analog for (and of) other elements. Humour is a wave form that sweeps across our psychic, social and cultural landscape.

The only constant seems to be that we all recognise that humour exists and we have the ability to differentiate the humorous from the humourless.

I'll leave the last words to WC Fields - "The funniest thing about comedy is that you never know why people laugh. I know what makes them laugh but trying to get your hands on the why of it is like trying to pick an eel out of a tub of water". (There are those eels again.) (accessed 13/01/2010)