Robotic Aesop: Computer Program Can Write Its Very Own Fables

Friday, 01 August 2014 - 12:38PM
Friday, 01 August 2014 - 12:38PM
Robotic Aesop: Computer Program Can Write Its Very Own Fables

Can an artificial intelligence create art, particularly of the literary variety? We tend to think of art as a singularly human endeavor, but researchers at the University of South New Wales have challenged that notion with their computer program that can write moralistic fables.


The Moral Storytelling System, created by PhD candidate Margaret Sarlej, creates a basic story based on the emotions felt by the characters. There are currently 22 available emotions that can be used in thousands of combinations in order to create a variety of fables.


The computer program cannot necessarily be called an "author" in its own right quite yet, however, as a human is still needed for the initial creative input. "A human author simply decides an interesting emotional path for the story, and the computer does the rest. The computer decides the events to elicit those emotional responses from the characters and the characters do whatever the plot needs them to do," said Sarlej. 


The computer uses the OCC model of emotions in order to determine actions of the characters and plot points that will elicit or represent certain emotions. The OCC model, named after psychological theorists Ortony, Clore, and Collins, is a theoretical framework of emotions specifically designed for artificial intelligence that focuses on the cognitive elicitors of emotions. It takes a three-pronged approach to these elicitors: events, agents, and objects. According to the OCC model, emotions in a specific situation are elicited by the combined valenced reactions, or reactions based on the perceived attractiveness or aversiveness of each element, of each of these three types of elicitors. One can be pleased or displeased at an event, approve or disapprove of an agent's actions, and like or dislike an object. The computer program is a technical translation of this model. 


A more detailed diagram of the theory:


[Credit: von Gerd Ruebenstrunk]


The research team is confident that this is a definitive step towards computers creating their own literary works of art without the help of a human. Sarlej's supervisor, Australian Research Council Fellow Dr. Malcolm Ryan, asserted that computers "will be making interesting and meaningful contributions to literature within the next decade". "They might be more experimental than mainstream," concedes Ryan, who is based in the School of Computer Science and Engineering, "but the computer will definitely be doing some of the work of writing." 


Fable written by the computer program illustrating the theme of Retribution:


"Once upon a time there lived a unicorn, a knight and a fairy. The unicorn loved the knight. One summer's morning the fairy stole the sword from the knight. As a result, the knight didn't have the sword anymore. The knight felt distress that he didn't have the sword anymore. The knight felt anger towards the fairy about stealing the sword because he didn't have the sword anymore. The unicorn and the knight started to hate the fairy.


The next day the unicorn kidnapped the fairy. As a result, the fairy was not free. The fairy felt distress that she was not free."


It's clearly an accident, but one could argue that the understatement of that last sentence is extremely poetic. This gets to the heart of the team's goals in building this program, as they are not only aiming to build an artificial intelligence that can create significant works of art, but also to open human artists' minds to new, experimental modes of storytelling.


Ryan said, "For us, this is a serious literary project, and we want to find artists who can help direct it to that end."

Artificial Intelligence

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