#631: Using AI to Drive Conversations, Create Culture, & Foster Understanding

The Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab had a design research project at Sundance that is exploring new models of cooperative storytelling and collaborative sensemaking, but it was also on the bleeding edge of integrating technologies ranging from machine learning, innovative projection mapped visual displays, IoT-driven instruments, computational dance, and using AI as a collaborator to cultivate group dynamics. Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many had three acts that used immersive theater components in order to facilitate a range of different social experiences that reflected on what it means to be human and what it means to be connected.

Act I had one-on-one conversations in an empathy conversational model that was designed to explore vulnerable experiences of connection and isolation, and it concluded with matching feelings with body parts. The emotional associations from Act I were fed into the AI, which determined an overall emotional sentiment and influenced the questions that the AI asked about human nature to all of the people participating in Act I. The AI was trained on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but was also scouring the Internet looking for clues about what it means to be a human, and what it means to be connected. Then the collective emotional sentiment from the entire week was aggregated, and this drove the questions that were asked to a large group in the final Act III. The audience’s answers were fed into the AI, tagged with sentiment, and then translated into instructions that were sent to a performer doing interpretive dance. The final performance had more of a narrative arc that explored the polarities between isolation and connection, and had the audience share take-aways that they could feed into the AI to help it understand humanity and connection.

I had a chance to sit down with a couple of the co-creators of Frankenstein AI from the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab, Lance Weiler and Rachel Ginsberg. We talked about going beyond transactional data with AI, how AI holds up a mirror to humanity, the narrative design intentions driving the project, and exploring yin storytelling structures beyond the 3-act and 5-act structures.


Joseph Campbell’s monomyth is arguably biased towards more of a yang, outward journey, while this new yin story structure model that is emerging has to do more with facilitating an inner journey of transformation. Specifically Frankenstein AI focused on creating shared culture, fostering common understanding, driving empathetic conversations, facilitating a future-thinking practice of worldbuilding, and inspiring new mythologies about our relationship with artificial intelligence. These are all about fostering yin behaviors that are cooperative and pro-social.

We are seeing a lot of evidence for how the yin structures of storytelling is happening with the cultivation of embodied presence within VR experiences, and Frankenstein AI is starting to explore what this might look like at larger scales of collective transformation by working with larger group dynamics. In order to create shared culture, then shared experiences are facilitated by AI that is driving a collective Socratic dialogue about what it means to be human and what it means to be connected. And just by reflecting on the deeper patterns of our humanity and connections, then it makes us more human and more connected.

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