Do Androids Dream of Eclectic Tweets* : A Brief Report on the PROSECCO Code Camp on Computational Creativity

On how we got computationally creative in Coimbra…

Nenhuma ideia brilhante consegue entrar em circulação se não agregando a si qualquer elemento de estupidez.

No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it.

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)

*Nod to Tony Veale’s RobotComix

In January of this year I made my (long overdue) first ever trip to the beautiful land of Portugal, for the inaugural Code Camp on Computational Creativity which was generously sponsored by the EU PROSECCO COST Action.
The camp took place in the picturesque locale of Coimbra, the Oxbridge of Portugal and home to one of the most venerable universities in the world (established in 1290).
In this lush setting of the Cognitive and Media Systems Group of the Department of Informatics Engineering, Faculty of Sciences and Technologies, fueled by an abundance of midday wine and pasteis de nata provided by the ever generous Prof. Amílcar Cardoso and his local team, we set about the task of creating creative Twitterbots, intelligent machines displaying a flair for the linguistic.

20150112_081058

A wide range of interesting bots were brought to life with the help of computational creativity experts including, among others, Dr. Tony Veale of UCD, Dr. Simon Colton, Games By Angelina founder Michael Cook of Imperial and Goldsmiths, the Right Honourable Dr. Graeme Ritchie from Aberdeen and an expansive cast of mentors named after Tintin characters such as Captain Haddock, Nestor, and Snowy.

Among the camp attendees were a smattering of computational linguists, some computational creativity researchers, a handful of games designers and even a few visual artists to complete the rich milieu of motivated disciples of the cult of computational creativity. Many of those in attendance (myself included) appeared to have come to the field through a side-project or after-hours guilty pleasure in tandem with their fulltime gig, which made for a very pleasant camp atmosphere.

The bots ranged from an automated riddle generator, a rap-battle bot, a computationally creative movie article tagline generator, a “call and response” conversation bot, a “Cards Against Humanity” interactive bot to a sad-sack distressed self-pitying bot (our team’s contribution) (Code camp Twitter list here).
One unique element of the camp proceedings was the focus around a shared knowledge base, the so-called NOC list provided by Tony Veale. This was an exhaustively hand-collated list of properties and relationships for a number of personages, both fictional and non-fictional.
This resource enabled the bots to demonstrate human-like metaphorical capabilities, such as the following:

Some reflections

In addition to being my first time in Portugal, this was also my first hackathon, and I very much underestimated the amount of effort required to get a creative Twitterbot off the ground in a few days. The team behind the Movazine bot had a particularly challenging task at hand to bring together a number of rather complex NLP processing frameworks  to come up with their witty analogies. The pattern library from Tom De Smedt helped immensely however, as did the pizza and cake infusion provided by the local organisers.

A possible next step in the Twitterbot hierarchy of evolution, a development from mere generation (v1.0) and our next-generation bots who use knowledge bases (v2.0) would be bots which can skilfully combine dynamic information from Twitter (similar to the Convo bot pair) and other social streams with user-curated information such as the NOC list or perhaps dynamic but structured data sources such as Freebase or ConceptNet, inserting themselves into live conversations with wild abandon. Feedback from participants in the camp indicated that bots incorporating other modalities such as image and video would be of great interest for a future event in this space.

Spare ideas

During the brainstorming process, I came up with some bot ideas which in the end were not developed. Hopefully someday I’ll get to create them, but if not, I’d be happy if anyone wanted to take them on board.

ObitUBot

A bot that tweets short Twitter obituaries for inanimate objects such as the floppy disk, or short-lived former countries/empires, e.g.

In Memoriam : The floppy disk, 1960-2010, purveyor of bits, facilitator of data transfer, not actually as floppy as the name suggests…..

This could be based on a number of Wikipedia Category pages such as:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Legacy_hardware
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Former_countries_in_Europe
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:History_of_telecommunications

and some interesting textual templates mined from real world obituaries, topped off with some NLP wizardry.
The bot could tweet a link to the Wikipedia article referenced within each tweet, raising awareness of arcane European principalities while providing humorous insights into same.

Talking Bot My Generation:

This bot is one which I am very much hoping to put together at some point, inspired by the current metaphorical comparison iteration of Tony Veale’s Metaphor Magnet Bot and it is can be loosely conceived as something along the lines of an automated literary or film critic.
Preloaded with a hand-curated list of 20th century cultural luminaries (and not-so-luminaries) separated by decade and category (film, literature, popular/highbrow, actor, musician), this bot would tweet pop-literary-critical musings such as:

If #DonDeLillo is like the #JamesJoyce for the #BabyBoomers, then what is his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man?

#MickeyRourke; The Yuppie #BradPitt or more of a Reagan-era #ChristianBale?

Is #TheSunAlsoRises #TheBonfireoftheVanities for the #GreatestGeneration, or more of a Thirties #LessThanZero?

Further resources:

Tutorial by Tony Veale on Creative Twitterbots

http://www.slideshare.net/kimveale/tutorial-on-creative-twitterbots

Mike Cook’s musings on Twitterbots and cultural taboos

http://www.gamesbyangelina.org/2014/09/appreciating-bots/

Guardian article on computational creativity, which gives a shout out to MetaphorMagnet, comparing one of its tweets to early Emily Dickinson poetry…..
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/11/can-computers-write-fiction-artificial-intelligence

Podcast interview with a veteran of creative Twitterbots, tinysubversions’ Darius Kaziemi

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2014/dec/17/darius-kazemi-bot-tech-weekly-podcast

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