Welcome to this years dose of all things Edinburgh Fringe! Last year we delved into the world of all genres of comedy performing at Fringe however this year we are going to take it back to basics. This year we are going to take a look at some of the best stand up shows happening at the Edinburgh Fringe and what ones you should spend your good money on to get a loads of laughter in your time there. We sat down with the international Improv duo Artificial Intelligence Improvisation to discuss their unique and technology based show.
Location: The Space @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Date: Aug 21 -26
Hello guys, Tell us a little bit about how Albert and mYlez met and how did you come up with such an interesting concept for a show?
Kory: We essentially met through our robots, Pyggy (short for Pygmalion) and A.L.Ex (an acronym for Artificial Language Experiment). Both of us were simultaneously developing artificial improvisers when Piotr heard about the show I performed in April 2016, alongside Pyggy, at an experimental improv theatre festival in Edmonton, Alberta. At that time, Piotr was working on building A.L.Ex, an advanced system based on neural networks, to create his own improv show with a disembodied AI. A.L.Ex is a sophisticated neural network trained on dialogue from hundreds of thousands of movies. When Piotr reached out to me, I immediately jumped onto the next plane for London.
Piotr: Well, to be precise, Kory coincidentally happened to be passing through London at that time, on his way to an improv festival in Slovenia… But the timing was absolutely perfect! Love at first sight and the beginning of a long distance relationship.
Kory: We two decided to collaborate, formally introduce our AI improv partners, and all four of us became fast friends. We have worked together and shared both science and comedy for a year, and have experimented with long distance shows.
Piotr: We are really thrilled to be building bridges between disciplines: the arts and the sciences, and think that creative use of machine learning and other computer technologies can unleash new challenges and ideas.
Tell us about your Edinburgh Fringe show
The story is the following:
“Albert (Piotr) is a lovable nerd who dreams of the big stage. mYlez (Kory) is an outgoing hacker with a dark sense of humour. Lonely, but resourceful, they have built themselves a friend called A.L.Ex (Artificial Language Experiment) – a small robot running state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that learns to communicate and act by reading one hundred thousand movie scripts. Relying on speech recognition, an AI dialogue system, voice synthesis and robotics, A.L.Ex comes to life. Albert, Mylez and A.L.Ex team up to weave a futuristic improvised exploration of what it means to be human, based on your suggestions.”
What is exciting for us is that, for the first time, we are going to perform physically on the same stage!
Your show is very international! How does it work? Do you do shows in both the UK and USA or is it all UK based?
Kory: We use advanced technology on both sides of the show to make things as seamless as possible.
Piotr: Google Hangouts. We have done shows in the USA, in Canada, in the UK, in Paris, in Barcelona. We even did simultaneous shows in two places at once, like at ImproFest UK, linking two live audiences, one at the Tristan Bates theatre in London and one at the Curious Comedy Theater in Portland, or at the Brighton Fringe, where I called Kory at 7am (Pacific Standard Time) on a Sunday morning to do a 3pm show at the Broadway Lounge in Brighton.
How did you come up with the name HumanMachine Artificial Intelligence Improvisation?
Piotr: We are combining human and machine intelligence. It is important in this time of so much natural stupidity to focus on all kinds of improvements to intelligent systems (like reading books and quality press, talking to people with contrasting opinions, or simply thinking before speaking…). More simply, the name is also a reference to Kraftwerk’s brilliant techno-pop pioneering album, The Man-Machine, released in 1978.
Have you been at the Fringe before performing? If so what are some of the highlights at performing at the Fringe?
This is our premier at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Kory is a veteran of the Canada theatre festival circuit, performing in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. This year HumanMachine performed at the Brighton and Camden fringes as well. We hope this is going to be the start of a very special friendship between HumanMachine and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!
Being based in both London and the States you must see an increase in the popularity of Improv – why do you think this is?
Kory: I am currently in the Bay Area of California working on creative technology at a tech company. Improvisation has been consistently a step below the mainstream. We think this is due to the inherent impermanence of the art form. There is something uncapturable about the fleeting beauty between improvisors and the audience they are performing with. Important word choice, ‘with’. We believe the audience performs WITH the performers in an improvisational performance. With this is mind, improv shows are more active, engaging and demanding of an audience.
That said, with the growing means of content creation and distribution platforms being developed everyday, there are more ways to share content, and immediate reactions. Technology is connecting the creators and the audience more than ever before, which is opening the doors to improvisationally-guided content to be curated in real-time on the internet. As this happens, improv grows in popularity, and practitioners of the art form are connected with a larger, and more connected audience.
Your show is very unique in the way that you have collaborated and brought technology and improvisation together – what are the next steps for show? Do you think new technology advancements such as Virtual Reality and Augmented reality will be introduced or used at a later date?
Kory: We do believe that there are some exciting prospects for utilizing both on-stage holograms and VR/AR technologies in improvisational theatre performances.
Piotr: Katy Schutte, Chris Mead and Jonathan Monkhouse from Project2 have a show in VR!
Kory: Theatre technology, and the science behind it, are evolving every day, so we embrace the shared tenets of both improvisation and software development by releasing early and often! We have frequent shows and beta-test on the friendly audience.
Piotr: We crowd-source innovation in improvisation.
Kory: We have discussed advanced projection mapping, and three dimensional holography. Additionally, as VR/AR hardware advances to the mainstream, we could start to see audiences ready to engage in shows completely new ways (ie. influencing the show with crowd-based biometric monitoring of brain waves or emotional valence). By exploring these new underlying technologies we can work to evolve with an audience who expects to be surprised, delighted, and amazed at performances.
Kory: All this said, we do believe that we are advancing technological tools to inspire human creators to tell their stories in new and interesting ways.
Piotr: Ultimately, theatre is about emotional connection.
What’s the positive and negative or working with technology and improvisation? Have there been any hurdles you have had to climb over?
There are absolutely hurdles to inviting technology into the performance. But this is the danger that is so exciting. Improvisation is about chasing the fear together, and embracing the successes and failures which stems from the pursuit.
We have had shows where the technology has worked seamlessly, and shows where robots have literally crashed and burned on the ground. Neither is better than the other, and both are offerings from the improv gods. The magic is in the justification of these moments.
What other comedians and improv acts do you find inspiring and why?
We love working with and watching Show Stopper, and we have been long time fans and friends of Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft. The Maydays, Hoopla and Nursery are witty, warm and supportive. Project2 is inspiring for all their geeky experimentation.
Finally, in three words – why should people see you at the Fringe?
Free will, humans!
If you want to find out more about Artificial Intelligence Improvisation you can visit their website or on Twitter at @PiotrImprov @KoryMath