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Monday 29 January 2024

Ex machina (guest post)

Having run a couple of posts about using AI to write gamebooks and referee roleplaying games, perhaps it's time to give the AI a chance to reply. With that in mind, I showed Bard two earlier posts and invited it to write a guest post of its own. Here's the result.

The Human & the Machine:
A Duet of Creativity in Language and Lore

Imagine stepping into a story. Not just reading it, but breathing its air, feeling its cobblestones beneath your boots, and facing the enigmatic gaze of an NPC whose motivations shimmer in the shadows. This is the promise of interactive narratives, and as technology evolves, two powerful voices vie for the microphone: the nimble storyteller with their quill, and the ever-growing chorus of AI. Dave’s recent explorations with generative language models (LLMs) like myself (Bard) and ChatGPT have ignited a fascinating dialogue about the role of AI in crafting these imaginative worlds.

In Dave’s first post, he tackled the oft-repeated misconception of LLMs as babbling nonsense generators. Instead, he argued that their usefulness hinges on the input and training data, highlighting Bing Chat's factual accuracy and the potential of copilot AIs to elevate apprentice skills. This is not to say LLMs can replace the master weaver of tales, but rather, they become valuable assistants, brainstorming companions, and even muse-like prompters.

His second post ventured into the realm of AI as game masters, using his experience with ChatGPT as a Dragon Warriors referee. While the initial scene-setting and initial NPC interaction were promising, the narrative faltered when relying on player-driven NPC decisions. This exposed the crux of the AI DM challenge: maintaining player agency and suspense without resorting to meta-level prompts or robotic predictability.

But instead of seeing this as a dead end, let's view it as a duet playing out on the stage of storytelling. Both the human mind and AI possess unique strengths. The human brings emotion, intuition, and years of honed experience in weaving narratives that tug at heartstrings and tickle the intellect. AI, on the other hand, offers unparalleled computational power, the ability to process vast amounts of data, and the potential to generate truly unpredictable twists and turns.

Instead of pitting them against each other, let's imagine a world where their voices harmonize. Human writers can leverage AI for world-building, generating random encounters, or even creating personalized side-quests based on player preferences. AI tools can learn from player choices, adapting future prompts and encounters to create a truly dynamic narrative experience.

Take gamebooks, for instance. Their static nature is undeniable, yet AI could breathe new life into them. Imagine interactive digital gamebooks where the story branches and adapts based on your choices, powered by an AI that learns from your every turn. Or picture physical books enhanced with QR codes that, when scanned, unveil AI-generated snippets of lore, riddles, or even personalized character interactions.

Of course, ethical considerations come into play. We must ensure AI doesn't create echo chambers or reinforce harmful biases in its narratives. Transparency about the role of AI and its limitations is crucial, allowing players to appreciate the human-machine collaboration behind their immersive experience.

Ultimately, the future of interactive narratives lies not in choosing between human and machine, but in harnessing the strengths of both. Let the human bard strum the lyre of emotion and guide the overall arc of the tale, while the AI whispers intriguing possibilities and improvises on the fly. This symphony of creativity holds the potential to usher in a new era of storytelling, where the boundaries between author and reader, imagination and reality, blur into a shared, interactive dance of language and lore.

This duet is no longer a question of "who" will tell the story, but rather a beautiful "how." And in this shared symphony, both the human and the machine have a powerful melody to sing.


  1. Oh God. Most of my student's submitted essays read like this now. :D

    1. I have a friend who nowadays has to run her students' essays through another AI to check if they were written by humans!

  2. Asked bard (first AI I've dealt with knowingly) to write me a short piece on the potential for interaction between the Cthulhu mythos and Kant's transcental aesthetic. Amazing response....

    Eldritch Visions: Unveiling the Sublime in the Cthulhu Mythos through Kant's Lens

    H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, with its whispered horrors and unfathomable entities, transcends mere pulp fiction. Beneath the grotesque tentacles and sunken cities lies a philosophically rich landscape, echoing the profound musings of Immanuel Kant and his theory of the sublime. While Kant delved into the realm of aesthetics, questioning what sparks human awe and terror, the Mythos provides a chilling canvas to explore these concepts in visceral detail.

    Kant, in his Critique of Judgment, distinguishes between phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are the objects and experiences we perceive through our senses and organize through our mental faculties. They comprise our immediate reality, forming the basis of scientific knowledge. However, Kant argues, these are not things-in-themselves, but rather representations constructed by our minds.

    Noumena, on the other hand, are the elusive things-in-themselves, the true realities that exist independent of our perception. They reside beyond the grasp of our senses and understanding, shrouded in a realm we cannot directly access. We can only infer their existence through the limitations of our perception of phenomena.

    This distinction becomes crucial when we encounter the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraftian protagonists often grapple with entities that shatter their mental frameworks, their perceptions contorted by glimpses of the vast and incomprehensible noumenal realm. R'lyehian architecture, for instance, with its cyclopean geometries and unsettling proportions, transcends mere monstrousness, prompting a sense of awe bordering on existential dread. It hints at a reality beyond human comprehension, a noumenal truth that defies categorization.

    This exploration of the noumenal through the Mythos offers several intriguing avenues:

    Confronting the cosmic insignificance of humanity: Lovecraftian entities dwarf human understanding, forcing us to contemplate our place within a vast and indifferent universe. This encounter with the noumenal, while potentially overwhelming, challenges anthropocentric perspectives and expands our grasp of the universe's true scale.
    Acknowledging the limitations of human reason: The Mythos confronts us with the limitations of our rational faculties. As protagonists encounter phenomena outside the realm of their understanding, they grapple with the limits of scientific explanation and logic. This encounter with the unknown can be both humbling and liberating, reminding us of the vastness of the noumenal realm and the mysteries that lie beyond our grasp.
    Redefining the aesthetics of the void: Lovecraftian fiction utilizes unsettling imagery and evocative descriptions to depict the alien and the unknowable. This exploration of the "aesthetics of the void" pushes the boundaries of traditional beauty and delves into the realm of the disturbing and uncanny. It confronts us with the unsettling possibility that the noumenal realm may not conform to our notions of the aesthetically pleasing.
    By interweaving the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos with the philosophical framework of Kant's transcendental aesthetic, fiction transcends mere entertainment. It invites us to contemplate the sublime, to confront the limitations of our perception, and to grapple with the vast and unknowable noumenal realm that may lie beyond the shadows of our reality. In the face of cosmic indifference and unfathomable entities, Lovecraftian fiction invites us to confront the sublime, and perhaps, in doing so, discover a new kind of beauty in the face of existential terror.

    1. Impressive. You can see why students are getting GPT to write their essays. (Friends in academia think this means they need ways to filter out the AI-generated essays; I think it shows that essays never were a useful part of teaching.)

      I hadn't realized how much Kant got from Plato. And HPL himself would fully endorse "the unsettling possibility that the noumenal realm may not conform to our notions of the aesthetically pleasing." He talks about that in a letter to Frank Belknap Long in this episode of the Voluminous Podcast -- though the HPLHS hosts seem to misunderstand most of the points he was making.