ImprovBot, The ‘World’s First’ AI-Generated Arts Festival Program For The Edinburgh Fringe


The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is known as the world's largest arts festival. Having surpassed only by the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in terms of global ticketed events, it was first established in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival, which takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 2020 however, the 'COVID-19' coronavirus forced the organizers to cancel the yearly event, with concerns of spreading the virus any further.

But art junkies can still get an alternative to this massive event, which is curated by an AI called the 'ImprovBot'.

Referred to as the "world's first" AI generated Arts Festival programme, it reimagines old Fringe listings by analyzing the 100-word text descriptions of every show staged at the festival from 2011 to 2019 (a total of more than two million words), to create ideas for new comedies, plays, musicals, and cabaret.

The resulting blurbs will then be handed to the Improverts, which is a improvisational comedy troupe from the Edinburgh University Theatre Company that performs primarily at the Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh.

But this 2020, the Improverts performs the shows over on its Twitter account.

According to Melissa Terras, a Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh:

"The aim of ImprovBot is to explore the junction of human creativity and comedy, and to see how this is affected when an Artificial Intelligence enters into the mix. "It is [a] reminder of the playfulness of the Fringe and we invite online audiences to rise to the provocation, and interact, remix, mashup, and play with the content."

The AI was first conceived as a live show for the 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with Edinburgh University researchers collaborating with some of the world-renowned Improverts, the Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s resident improvised comedy troupe.

"Using a combination of live and pre-computed AI-generated results, we would challenge the Improverts to perform these new proposed shows on the fly, with presumably hilarious results," the ImprovBot AI's website wrote.

In total, ImprovBot aims to create 350 show descriptions, which will be posted once every hour on Twitter from August 7 to 31.

"For the first time since 1947, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as we know it is not going ahead. But there are years of previous programmes stored in the digital vaults. The Bot, an artificial neural network, goes to work on these data, compiling the world’s first AI-generated event blurbs for a virtual arts festival of comedy, plays, musicals, and cabaret."

The results of the AI's work are also meant to show illustrations that counterpoint the generated text, providing an extended meditation and critique of the mushrooming stock image industry, and clichéd depictions of AI, computer science, and academic research.

The project allows permission for creative and non-profit reuse through its API.

Before the pandemic, the project received funding from the Edinburgh Futures Institute, in conjunction with the Data Driven Innovation program of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, with additional resources from the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society, and Creative Informatics.