Is this the future of comedy? The AI acts taking to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe | Ents & Arts News

It’s arguably the biggest existential threat facing humanity, so you’d think artificial intelligence (AI) might be an unlikely source for punchlines… but not at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Instead, an invasion is under way in the city, led by Vanessa 5000.

Clown Courtney Pauroso’s invention, described on her posters as: “Artificially intelligent. Genuinely stupid. ChatGPT ain’t got nothing on Vanessa 5000’s sweet synthetic a**.”

Speaking to Sky News, Pauroso said: “There’s a lot to think about and to play with.

“I think we should be scared,” she cackles, before adding, “but also it’s just really fun to play with the fear aspect.”

Courtney Pauroso at the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe festival. Picture from Spencer VT.
Courtney Pauroso

Pauroso is a Los Angeles native, where AI is dominating the conversation.

Concern that it will put people within the entertainment industry out of work is part of the reason writers and actors are striking in the US.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t say this but, to be honest, you can get a bad but workable outline for a script and then have a person go in and make it funny, and I’m sure a studio wants to say ‘yeah, let’s just do that!’ but obviously that’s not what we want.

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“And I think it definitely takes a bit of the soul out of anything you make.”

But can computers really be funny?

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation is a show that sets out to see if algorithms can get audiences laughing. The improvised performance sees humans deliver the chatbots funniest lines.

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation runs at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 27 August at the Edinburgh Fringe
One AI-based show taking place at Edinburgh Fringe is Artificial Intelligence Improvisation

The show’s co-founder, Piotr Mirowski, a former research scientist on Google’s DeepMind project, asks the programme they use to “tell Sky News a great joke”.

The result:
“Why don’t scientists trust atoms?”
“Because they make up everything.”

One of the show’s actors, Boyd Branch, believes there’s plenty to laugh about when it comes to AI.

“Every time Alexa speaks to me and gets my music request wrong, I find it hilarious,” he says.

“So yeah, I think robots can be super funny, but it’s the context, right?

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation co-founder, Piotr Mirowski, a former research scientist on Google's DeepMind project, with one of the show's actors, Boyd Branch at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
Artificial Intelligence Improvisation co-founder, Piotr Mirowski (left), with one of the show’s actors, Boyd Branch

“We’re laughing at tech in a way that’s awkwardly inserted into human conditions… and so I think the humour of the robot actually emerges on stage when we watch our relationship to it kind of crumble.”

Aside from generating some rather basic puns or one-liners, algorithms haven’t really been able to crack comedy.

Comedian Pierre Novellie isn’t convinced they will.

“Comedy is the last thing that AI is going to get near because not only do you need to actually invent AI – and not just a language summariser – but you need to fill it with cultural knowledge, reference points, sensitivity levels.

“Even normal human comedians struggle to dial their jokes into the right crowd at the right time, every time. But that’s what’s interesting about stand-up and fun.

“The context and the variations are infinite, much more so than anything else.”

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