‘The future of creativity’: creating An Artificially Intelligent Guide to Love

At the OKRE Experimental Stories workshop, discovering a new way of collaborating led to a BBC Radio 4 commission for audio production company Afonica.

Can a writer and a machine-learning algorithm collaborate to create an audio guide to love?

At OKRE’s Experimental Stories workshop that’s exactly what happened when award-winning production company Afonica, writer Hannah Silva and scientific consultant Dr James Carney worked together to create An Artificially Intelligent Guide to Love. The resulting drama aired on BBC Radio on 12 February 2021.

It was an experience that led to a brand-new way of working for the team.

As part of the writing process the team used the GPT-J algorithm to produce text in response to their inputs. The algorithm is a language prediction model trained and maintained by EleutherAI, a grassroots collective of researchers working to open-source AI research.

Nicolas Jackson, director and producer at Afonica, explained: ‘James’s experience with feeding a corpus of literature into a machine-learning algorithm to produce text gave us the idea that we could use AI to co-write our story – a story about love. So we have a human (our writer Hannah Silva) and an algorithm collaborating to create a script about that most human of emotions, love.

‘We input a huge and varied amount of material into the GPT software and the algorithm delivered some astonishing text on our subject matter. This text was selected and combined by Hannah with her own writing to create the script for this drama.’

‘Working with scientist Dr James Carney allowed us to create a story we would certainly not have reached through our normal processes. It wasn’t only a case of being inspired by the science, but of directly using it to create our story.’

Nicholas Jackson

Dr James Carney said: ‘Working with Hannah and Nicolas on An Artificially Intelligent Guide to Love was like being given a glimpse into the future of creativity. I’m used to working with algorithms and code in my research, but being a part of a team of three humans working with a non-human agent to create a drama had a very different character. More than anything, it showed me that the difference between the algorithmic and the human is not nearly so clear as we imagine it to be, and one challenge of the future will come with recognising this.’

The experimental drama stars Fiona Shaw as the algorithm and Yusra Warsama as the writer, alongside Jane Slavin and Neil Bell as ‘Woman’ and ‘Man’.

And despite the unexpected – and sometimes ridiculous – responses sometimes given by the algorithm, Nicolas feels that the software really did help to add a new perspective to the script.

Nicolas said: ‘There’s a temptation with AI text creation to hold up the sometimes absurdist or poetic results as an end in themselves. But we wanted the algorithm to help us write a script and tell a story, not just produce interesting lines. And we wanted it to teach us something about love, you might say from the machine’s perspective or experience, even though it has none.’

This is the second drama developed through OKRE Experimental Stories to be broadcast, following Tanika Gupta’s thrilling science-fiction work, The Goldilocks Zone.

You can listen to An Artificially Intelligent Guide to Love on BBC Radio 4 at 15.00 GMT, Saturday February 12th or stream it via BBC Sounds.