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About an AI that turns stories into interactive games

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Can you still remember the days when choose-your-own adventure books were a thing? You could not only immerse yourself into the story but you were also able to craft your own way through the fantastic fictional saga. For me, the sense of freedom and immersion that these books offered could seldom be matched by the standard method of linear storytelling. 

These books are pretty much non-existent these days but, thanks to some serious scientific prowess, we might seem them return with newfound glory.

Meet Scheherazade-IF: The AI that turns stories into games

According to a recent study, a group of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program that has the ability to create interactive narrative games by sourcing, reading and learning various stories written by humans and combining them into its own original plot.

The AI, called Scheherazade-IF (named after the Arabian Queen that tells the stories in ‘One Thousand and One Nights’), uses an algorithm that identifies and implements coherent plot points based on provided themes such as “going to the movies” or “robbing a bank” and, according to the researches, did a surprisingly good job.

“When we first tried the date at the movie theater, we expected to see things about buying concessions, finding seats, etc.” says Mark Raidl, one of the main researchers and the same man who worked on an AI that can generate its own, unique Super Mario levels. 

“The system learned that people should hold hands and kiss. This was great, because it is the sort of thing that we geeky AI researchers might have overlooked if we had to program the ‘script’ for going to the movie theater.”

Could an AI tell better stories?

In the loosest sense, what Scheherazade-IF is doing is committing a form of mass plagiarism. The AI doesn’t actually comprehend what it is reading but rather identifies pattern in stories to help craft its own.

“Humans are pretty good storytellers and posses a lot of real-world knowledge,” says Reidl. “Scheherazade-IF treats a crowd of people as a massively distributed knowledge base from which to digest new information”. 

For instance, it will recognize that certain sentences would refer to the same subject or event, in this case something like “buying popcorn”, and then apply it to the story. Furthermore, it also has the ability to distinguish the order of chronological events and adapt the narrative accordingly.

As a test, the researchers decided to pit Scheherazade against a human storyteller and a version of the program that generates random stories (a less sophisticated version of the AI). They then presented these stories to “readers” that played the different versions and reported on how logical each of the stories was.

After a series of 120 tests of three different narratives, the Scheherazade’s stories were either just as, or at least 83% as, coherent as the human versions. In all cases, the AI performed considerably better than the program that randomly generated stories.

As an example of one test concerning the “Going to the Movies” scenario, the players found an average of three errors in the human story, five in Scheherazade-IF’s story and 15 in the randomly created story.

Researchers, for now, are still paying writers to create stories for the AI to learn from. Though the story can be written naturally, the branching option can only consist out of single event sentences such as “Show your tickets to the employee”.  Compound sentences (sentences joined by words such as “but” or “and”) can’t be used as they contain a branch in the story within themselves.  

At present, Scheherazade-IF’s stories are rather simple but it could mark the beginning of a new way of story creation. It is an amazing scientific and technological development and serves as a testament to the evolving world of Artificial Intelligence.

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