Improbotics

Improbotics is a tech-infused improvised theatre and comedy show and a live Turing test-based scientific experiment. An actual artificial intelligence-based chatbot is performing in the show and tries to pass as human as it sends lines to one of the improvisers via an earpiece. Our impossible and hilarious challenge is to attempt to justify, physically and emotionally, AI-generated lines that may make no sense at all.

Co-created by robotics researchers Piotr Mirowski (UK/France/Poland) and Kory Mathewson (Canada) as well as by drama director Jenny Elfving (Sweden) and science communicator Ben Verhoeven (Belgium), our show combines ideas from HumanMachine‘s Artificial Intelligence Improvisation, Etan Muskat‘s “Yes, Android” and the classical improv game called Actor’s Nightmare or Lines From a Play.

Improbotics has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, RTÉ One, Globals News Canada and Bloomberg.
**** Edmonton Fringe 2018.
“I will stick with artificial stupidity” (Colin Mochrie, Edinburgh Fringe 2017).
“This could be revolutionary” (Broadway Baby, Brighton Fringe 2018).

Why are we doing this?

Improvisation is about risk, challenge, and cooperation. Improvisers take on seemingly impossible tasks, and through their skill and open mind, surprise themselves. In this show, we want to explore how human improvisers could seamlessly perform when a machine or another human feeds some of them lines via an earpiece. We want the team to play together in a single, grounded narrative improvisation, despite the challenge.

Similarly to the Actor’s Nightmare improv game, the AI-controlled improviser (Cyborg) needs to justify their lines as well as they can. However, in this case, their lines are interactive and depend on the context of the improvised scene. The other improvisers, who are not fed lines, need to make the scene look natural. All the improvisers, especially the Cyborg, need to play grounded characters. The AI chatbot, who listens to the conversations on the stage and interactively produces the next line for the Cyborg will probably be, at times, nonsensical. The free-will improvisers, who do not get lines fed to them, need to create strong dialogue. Or they can, to the contrary, pretend to be the AI and through deception, introduce a wildcard into the audience’s mind.

We want to push the deception as far as we can, and to encourage the improvisers to act in the most natural and intelligent way, and to play to the full range of their emotions and physicality. This setup gives many potentials for strong comedy.

Our Technology

The technology that enables remote control of a human player consists of a laptop, an FM radio transmitter/receiver with headphones, and our custom-made software that allows an operator to type sentences that will be sent to an artificial intelligence-based chatbot (based on HumanMachine‘s A.L.Ex, currently built around the GPT-2 model that we retrained on movie dialogue from OpenSubtitles), that will in turn generate sentences to be said by the Cyborg improviser. All the performers wear headphones, and the audience typically does not know who is controlled by an AI, and who relies on their free will to speak as they wish. A small humanoid robot, produced by EZ-Robot and running our custom software, is the host of our shows.

Creative Team

Artistic Direction:

Piotr Mirowski (CEO of Improbotics Ltd., London) is an improviser and theatre actor who trained in Toulouse (C cédille  and Ligue d’Improvisation Universitaire, 1999-2002), New York (QUICKTHINKING! Improv, 2003-2006) and London (The Nursery Theatre with Jules Munns, Heather Urquhart, Hoopla with Steve Roe, Katy Schutte and Chris Mead, The Showstoppers with Pippa Evans, Andrew Pugsley, Sean McCann, Adam Megido and Ruth Bratt, City Academy with Jake Lyons, Imprology with Remy Bertrand). Piotr studied for a Diploma in Acting at LSDA – London School of Dramatic Art (2015-2017). He has performed in several hundreds of improv shows, and was a member of New York-based improv volunteering charity Cherub Improv (2007-2013), performing in hospitals or nursing homes, London-based short form group Improvable (2013-2016), and artificial intelligence-based improv HumanMachine (2016-). Stage credits include The Hotel (Cambridge Theatreworks, 2003), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Moose Hall Inwood Shakespeare Festival, New York, 2006), Playing with Grown-Ups (LSDA, London Fringe, 2017), Medea (Wretched Strangers, Brighton Fringe and Camden Fringe, 2018) and Earthbound (Wretched Strangers, Brighton Fringe and Camden Fringe, 2019). By day, Piotr is a research scientist in artificial intelligence and robotics and graduated with a PhD in Computer Science at New York University in 2011.

Kory Mathewson (CEO of Improbotics Inc. Canada), a Canadian Comedy award-winning improviser, has trained at Rapid Fire Theatre (2005-present). Kory presented TEDxRFT alongside Julian Faid at the Seattle Festival of Improvised Theatre, Austin’s Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, and was recently awarded “best of fest” at the Vancouver International Improv Festival. An endurance improvisor at heart, he has starred in multiple 50-hour Edmonton and London Improvathons (2012, 2016). He has performed and taught Theatresports and long-form narrative improvisation across Canada, the United States, and Europe at the Montreal Improv Festival,, the Bellingham Improv Festival, Rapid Fire Theatre’s Improvaganza in Edmonton, with Outside Joke’s main season in Winnipeg, and served as 2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Curious Comedy Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Kory is an innovator in the art form of improvisation, bringing new techniques and formats inspired by his work in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. He just finished a PhD in Computing Science at the University of Alberta, with a thesis on “Humour-in-the-loop: Improvised Theatre with Interactive Machine Learning Systems”.

Piotr and Kory are co-creators of arts and science collective HumanMachine and of robot-based improv comedy: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation.  They have been improvising together on Human Machine since 2017 and have performed, remotely and on the same stage, at ImproFest UK 2017, Brighton Fringe Festival 2017, Camden Fringe Festival 2017, and Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017. Their work has been credited in Avenue Edmonton, The Sunday Times, Canadian Television, RTE One, Bloomberg Business, Inverse and a feature in the New Scientist.

Jenny Elfving (CEO of Improbotics AB, Stockholm), is a Swedish actor, improviser and playwright, who trained at Boulevardteatern, Stockholms Improvisationsteater, and Västerbergs Folkhögskola. Since 2011 she has taught numerous improv classes at Stockholms Improvisationsteater, International Theater Stockholm, and Improvisation & Co. As a member of the independent improv group Dramatiska who focused on dramatic genre based longform, she has co-produced and performed in Improvised Tennessee Williams, Improvised Ingmar Bergman, Improvised Woody Allen, Improvised Hitchcock, and the smash hit that played for a full house for 5 seasons: Improvised Roy Andersson. With Dramatiska, she performed at the New York City Improv Festival 2013, SWIMP 2017 and Best of Stockholm 2017. She is also the founder and producer of the improv group Hybris, which performs frequently in Stockholm and is known for their modern Impro-Flow concept. Jenny has also played 7 seasons in the improvised children’s show Sagogrottan, co-founded the experimental group Achtung Impro in 2017. She is currently directing her own play Invulnerable at Teaterstudio Lederman.

Ben Verhoeven (CEO of Improbotics NV, Antwerp) is a Belgian science communicator and improviser. He has a strong scientific background as PhD in Computational Linguistics and has let improvisation take over his life ever since. In his own company ERLNMYR, he performs improvisation shows about science (Hoofdstof, Improbotics, Full STEAM Ahead) and provides applied improvisation training to scientists. He is the co-founder and managing director of Swaajp Improtheater in Antwerp. They perform regularly in English and Dutch and have their own Swaajp School of Improv in which Ben is a teacher. As a member of Commotie — musical improvisation — he won the Kemphanen competition for best long-form improvisation show in Flanders in 2017. He also travels to international improv festivals to take workshops and masterclasses, to see shows, to teach, but also to perform with — for example — the Dutch-Belgian ensemble “Werewolves, the improv show” which he co-directs. He is also active in his new trio Prism, and the Brussels-based group ImproBubble. As a passionate organizer he is also a founding member of The SIN — an international network of ambitious improv players and organizers in Europe.

Mentors and coaches:

We have received extensive advice and support from Adam Meggido and been coached by Chris Mead and Katy Schutte,

Additional collaborators:

Etan Muskat, trained at Second City Toronto and Artistic Director of Bad Dog Theatre, has created in May 2017 a show called “Yes, Android“, featuring an improv cast where one of the improvisers was reading lines generated by a chatbot.

Shows

Würzburg, Germany: 25 October 2019
Improbotics London and Improbotics Stockholm are proud to take part in the international Würzburger Improtheaterfestival., performing at Theater am Neunerplatz on Friday 25 October at 20:30, sharing the bill with “Almost Human”, a team inspired by Improbotics led by Gunter Lösel from the Zürich University of the Arts.

Nottingham, England: 30 October 2019
Improbotics London partakes in the Improv Smash Night in Nottingham.

London, England: 8 & 10 November 2019
We premiere a radical new show, “Rosetta Code”, at the Rich Mix in Shoreditch, London, as part of the Voilà! Europe festival. A multilingual “comedy of speech recognition errors” in Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Python & Swedish.

Göteborg, Sweden: 21 November 2019
Improbotics Stockholm and Improbotics London are proud to share the stage with Improtheater Konstanz at the Late Night show during the international Improfest in Göteborg, Sweden.

Stay tuned on our Facebook groups (Improbotics Ltd. UK and Improbotics AB Sweden), as well as our @Improbotics Twitter account for updates about incoming shows.

Past shows:

Improbotics Ltd. debuted during its residency at The Carousel at the Nursery Theatre (2 Finsbury Avenue, London EC2M 2PA, UK) on 4 March 2018, 18 March 201825 March 2018 and 8 April 2018. They then performed at the Thursday Night Lights at the Nursery Theatre on 14 June 2018 and at Classic Andy Robot Improv Party on 29 June 2018, and also organised a robot-compèred improv night at the Wenlock & Essex Pub on 21 June 2018.

Improbotics Inc. Edmonton debuted at Improvaganza 2018 and performed with an all-star ensemble cast on 16 June 2018.

Improbotics AB Stockholm debuted at Presens Improkällare (Tegelbruksvägen 28, 126 34 Hägersten, Sweden) on Friday 13 July and Sunday 15 July 2018.

Improbotics Ltd London was part of the Camden Fringe Festival and performed The Theatrical Turing Test at the Hen & Chickens Theatre (109 St Paul’s Rd, London N1 2NA, UK) on 1 August 2018.

Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson from Improbotics and HumanMachine performed in HumanMachine: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation at the Edmonton Fringe Festival at the Studio Theatre in August 2018 during the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

Jenny Elfving was a guest at Improbotics Ltd. night at the Wenlock & Essex pub on Tuesday 23 October 2018. Additional guest acts were Somewhat Theatre, John Agapiou’s Threesome (with 5 people), Hoopla’s house musical improv team The Stacattos, led by Phil Lunn and the award-winning Music Box Improv.

Edmonton, Canada: 12, 19, 26 January and 2 February 2019
Improbotics Inc. Edmonton led by Kory Mathewson with an all-star cast from the Rapid Fire Theatre perform improv with an artificial intelligence on January 12, 19, 26, & February 2nd at 7:30pm at the Zeidler Hall in the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Tickets are available now.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: 31 January 2019
Improbotics International Corp performs at Impro Amsterdam. Tickets for the evening session and for the workshop on the “Actor’s Nightmare, with Robots!” on Friday 1 February, are available here.

London, England: 21, 28 February and 7 March 2019
Improbotics Ltd. returns to the Nursery Theatre (2 Finsbury Avenue, London EC2M 2PA, UK) to perform at the Thursday Night Lights.

London, England: 19 March 2019
Improbotics Ltd. organises its third robot-compèred improv night at the Wenlock & Essex Pub.

London, England: 8 April 2019
Improbotics Ltd. is part of the weekly DuckDuckGoose show and jam at the Effra Social in Brixton.

Brest, France: 14 April 2019
Improbotics Ltd. participates in Festival International de Théâtre d’Improvisation SUBITO! 2019, performing on Sunday 14 April 2019 at Cabaret Vauban.

London, England: 15-16 May 2019
Jenny Elfving, Kory Mathewson, Piotr Mirowski and Sarah Davies present Improbotics at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium 2019.

Leicester, England: 17 May 2019
Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson as well as the London cast of Improbotics give a performance and talk at the Phoenix Cinema and Art Center during the Art-AI Festival in Leicester, organised by Prof. Tracy Harwood and Luba Elliott.

Brighton, England: 23, 26 and 27 May 2019
Improbotics International Corp take part in the Brighton Fringe Festival 2019, performing at The Warren: The Nest at 9pm on Thursday 23 May and 6pm on Sunday 26 and Monday 27 May (tickets).

Antwerp, Belgium: 8 June 2019
Improbotics Ltd. expanded to a fourth country, adding newly-created Flemish team led by Ben Verhoeven and by taking part in the Vlaamse Impromarathon.

Folkestone, England: 1 July 2019
Come jam with us with at Improv Gym Jam, organised by Sarah Davies and Jason Delplanque at the Folkestone Quarterhouse.

London, England: 8 July 2019
Improbotics Ltd. organises ImpRoboDisco, its fourth robot-compèred improv night at the Wenlock & Essex Pub.

London, England: 15 July 2019
Improbotics Ltd. is back at the weekly DuckDuckGoose show and jam at the Effra Social in Brixton.

London, England: and 3 August 2019
We return to perform during the Camden Fringe Festival 2019 at The Hen & Chickens Theatre, with prime-time 9pm Friday 2 August and Saturday 3 August shows.

Gallery

Improbotics London on 2 August 2019 at Camden Fringe 2019:

Improbotics with Kory Mathewson, Gunter Lösel and London cast on 16 May 2019 at the Global Improvisation Initiative 2019 Symposium:

 

Improbotics Ltd. Theatrical Turing Test on 1 August 2018 at The Hen & Chickens as part of the Camden Fringe Festival:

 

Improbotics AB on 13 and 15 July 2018 at Presens Improkällare:

 

Ensemble cast for Improbotics Inc on 16 June 2018 during the Rapid Fire Theatre Improvaganza:

 

Press

Press coverage:

Artificial Intelligence takes over Edmonton improv show at Citadel“, by Emily Mertz for Global News Canada, 17 January 2019.

A Robot Walks Into a Bar. But Can It Do Improv Comedy?“, by Alex Marshall for the New York Times, 8 August 2018.

So a Computer Walks Into a Bar“, by James Geary for the Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2018.

Improbotics: Bringing Machine Intelligence Into Improvised Theatre“, by Ingrid Fadelli for Tech Xplore, 20 September 2018.

AI tries bad improv to trick people into thinking it is human“, by Frank Swain for The New Scientist, 14 September 2018.

Hello World Canada: The Rise of AI“, by Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg, shown on 23 May 2018.

Robot’s terrible jokes are a new test of machine intelligence“, by Douglas Heaven for The New Scientist, 7 December 2017.

A.L.Ex the chatbot is learning to be human by doing improv comedy“, by Danny Paez for Inverse, 1 December 2017.

Will A Robot Steal My Job?“, by Anne-Marie Tomchak and Animo TV, shown on 13 November 2017 on RTE One.

Reviews:

5 star ***** rating in “Improv at Camden Fringe – Preview Review”, by The Phoenix Remix, July 2019. “If I was Introduced to a show like this as a kid I would have definitely paid more attention to science class […] it is phenomenal to see just how much it has actually developed as a concept. It is engaging, it is like nothing else out there on the improv scene meaning that it is unique. To me, it has an essence of a Philip K. Dick novel and that is hauntingly beautiful and nerve-racking at the same time. GO SEE THIS SHOW.”

“AI Art Online”, by Luba Elliott, December 2018. AI Art Online is a collection of art, music and design created using machine learning, submitted to the NeurIPS Workshop on Machine Learning for Creativity and Design. The online gallery was curated by Luba Elliott.

Contact:

Improbotics actively tweets (@Improbotics) and posts show updates @ImproboticsLtd. If you want to stay in touch or book a show with us, you can also contact us through this form: