Scheherazade, An Open Story Generator

Sheherazade is an open story generator; it is computer software that can generate stories in an unknown area. It automatically learns a domain model by crowdsourcing a corpus of narrative examples and (b) generates stories by sampling from the space defined by the domain model. It was developed by Mark Riedl and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, with a grant from DARPA.

Sheherazade tells stories to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, for training purposes.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate the strategic significance of tactical actions by junior and noncommissioned officers who interact with local populations. This kind of interaction benefits from extensive cultural training, but opportunities for such training are limited by the compression of the Department of Defense’s force-generation cycles. Virtual training simulations provide a partial solution by offering warfighters on-demand, computer-based training, but creating such tools currently requires substantial investments of time, money and skilled personnel.

To help overcome these challenges and improve the viability of online cultural training, one of the academic researchers receiving mentorship and funding through DARPA's Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program has developed and is refining a computer system that can automatically parse and aggregate people’s stories about a given topic and reconstruct variations of those experiences. The outputs are interactive training simulations similar to role-playing videogames or choose-your-own-adventure books.

Mark Riedl, a 2011 YFA recipient, is an assistant professor of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology who specializes in the intersection of artificial intelligence, virtual worlds and storytelling. As director of the university’s Entertainment Intelligence Lab, he researches narrative intelligence: the ability to organize and explain the world in terms of stories. Narrative intelligence is crucial for people to tell and understand stories, learn from experiences and operate effectively in the real world. Computers with narrative intelligence could theoretically educate, train, entertain and generally interact with humans the way people naturally interact with each other.

Riedl’s training-generation system is called “Scheherazade” after the queen in One Thousand and One Nights who saved her life by telling stories. In response to a user-provided topic, Scheherazade uses crowdsourcing technology to capture stories about a topic from multiple individuals and combines the stories into an integrated situational model that allows the user to make decisions and explore outcomes.

Scheherazade works by collecting human experiences on a specific topic in linear narrative form and building a generalized model about the topic domain using plot graphs. It can handle any topic for which people generally agree on the main events that should occur, although not necessarily on the specific sequence of events. The system instructs contributors to segment their narratives to avoid complex linguistic structures, and form sentences that contain only one event and one verb. The system then analyzes the narrative examples to identify consensus among primitive plot points, and clusters them based on semantic similarity to create plot events that unfold sequentially until a decision point is reached, at which point a new line of plot events and decision points is triggered.

Science fiction fans are familiar with the idea of computers that tell stories. In Studio 5, The Stars, a 1971 story by JG Ballard, a verse transcriber is used to write poetry on demand:

"Do you mean she wrote these herself?" I nodded. "It has been done that way. In fact the method enjoyed quite a vogue for twenty or thirty centuries. Shakespeare tried it, Milton, Keats and Shelley - it worked reasonably well for them."

"But not now," Tony said. "Not since the VT set. How can you compete with an IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue?"

"...Hold on," I told him. I was pasting down one of Xero's satirical pastiches of Rubert Brooke and was six lines short. I handed Tony the master tape and he played it into the IBM, set the meter, rhyme scheme, verbal pairs, and then switched on, waited for the tape to chunter out of the delivery head, tore off six lines and passed them back to me. I didn't even need to read them.

For the next two hours we worked hard, at dusk had completed over 1,000 lines and broke off for a well-earned drink.

From CHOOSE YOUR OWN SOCIOCULTURAL TRAINING ADVENTURE and Scheherazade.

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