Performance of HumanMachine: binary2 – Transatlantic Artificial Intelligence Improv on 31 March 2017 at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London and Curious Comedy Theater in Portland. Image credits: Ross Gamble

I have co-founded HumanMachine and Improbotics, two “artificial intelligence improvised theatre technology companies”, in partnership with Kory Mathewson. We are both improvisers and researchers in AI and thus believe in an interdisciplinary approach to the arts and sciences. Our vision is to explore new forms of human theatre through the help of state-of-the-art research in artificial intelligence and robotics, and to highlight what is uniquely human. For us, the skill of theatrical improvisation is one of the highest forms of human intelligence, and by confronting humans to the incongruity of machines on the stage, we can create new opportunities for comedy.

HumanMachine is a new artistic experiment fusing improvised theatre with artificial intelligence and telecommunications technology, aiming at exploring the meanings of creativity and spontaneity. The show relies on a human improviser who performs short improvised scenes with a robot stage partner. The system relies on speech recognition, a neural network-based chatbot that I have coded up and trained on the dialogue from over 100k films, and voice synthesis, in order to communicate with the improviser. Video projections of the system at work and a robot embodiment help the improviser and the audience to get immersed in the scene. The show is a celebration of hacking, experimentation and risk-taking. Using these premises, Kory and I have performed solo improvisation with this artificial intelligence-powered robot in London, Edmonton, Paris and Antwerp, twoprov with a robot via transatlantic link in London, Düsseldorf and at the Brighton Fringe in 2017 and 2018, and we have played on the same stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, Edmonton Fringe in 2018 and at the Zürich Kunsthalle in 2018.

Performance of Improbotics: Theatrical Turing Test on 1 August 2018 at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in London. Image credits: Natalya Micic

Improbotics is a live improvised Turing Test: an actual artificial intelligence-based chatbot is performing in the show. That AI tries to pass as human in front of an audience of human judges as it sends lines to one of the improvisers via an earpiece. The aim of our show is an arts-meet-science interdisciplinary exploration of how actors can seamlessly perform while controlled by a machine. Improbotics Ltd. premièred at the Nursery Theatre in London with the London cast, which also performed at the Camden Fringe Festival 2018. Canadian troupe Improbotics Inc, headed by Kory Mathewson, premièred at the Improvaganza festival in Edmonton in 2018 and had a run at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton with a Rapid Fire Theatre cast in 2019. Swedish troupe Improbotics AB, headed by Jenny Elfving, premièred in Stockholm in 2018 and performed together with the London troupe at Impro Amsterdam 2019.

Performance of Medea on 31 July 2018 at the Cockpit Theatre in London. Image credits: Natalya Micic

I am also the co-founder of Wretched Strangers, a European theatre company of professionals in the arts and sciences who trained at the London School of Dramatic Art. We hail from mainland Europe and give an (accented) voice to foreigners living in the UK. Our company was founded in 2017. Following our production of Jean Anouilh’s Medea (Brighton Fringe 2018; Reading Fringe 2018; Cockpit Theatre at the Camden Fringe 2018), we are bringing to the UK for the first time Earthbound (Violette sur la Terre), an original work by Québécois playwright Carole Fréchette, translated into English.