Play Written by a Robot to be Shown in UK

In celebration of 100th anniversary of the première of Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R., in which the word ‘robot’ was first used, the Czech Centre London has partnered with Prague’s Švanda Theatre and theaitre.comto present an innovative  project entitled ‘AI: When a robot writes a play’. The idea of celebrating the centenary of the play first performed in January 1921 came from Czech radical innovator Tomáš Studeník.

Created by a team of computer scientists and drama experts led by computational linguist Rudolf Rosa from Charles University in Prague, the play tells a story of everyday life from a robot’s point of view and is composed of dialogues generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

Přemysl Pela, director of Czech Centre London says, “As AI algorithms are already able to beat the best world chess players, compose classical music undiscernible from Mozart and Beethoven, we now witness another groundbreaking leap as the AI enters in completely uncharted territory of play writing. The outcome is to be judged by yourself.”

Daniel Hrbek, director of the Švanda Theatre, who is also directing the production says, “I was sceptical at first, but I was even more curious about what might be generated by the computer…We will see how the robot understands basic human issues such as birth, dying, search for love, but also work during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The text was written in English and translated into Czech by machine translation. The result is a set of dialogues that were arranged by drama experts to tell a story of a robot’s journey through human society.

As a lifeless beginner playwright, the robot needed help from humans and drama expert David Košťák reveals that “Sometimes it swapped female and male characters or clung to something irrelevant, so the dialogue lost its meaning. And there is one more obstacle the robot is having difficulties with so far – the subtext. The play is not only about what the character says, but also about what he or she actually thinks.”

The world premiere of the 60-minute play will take place on Friday 26th February 2021 via a live broadcast and in the UK audiences will be able to watch it live on the Czech Centre London’s Facebook page.

It will be performed in Czech with English subtitles and followed by a debate with artificial intelligence and theatre experts which will seek to answer the question of whether a robot canwrite a theatre play and thus pass the most difficult Turing test to date. The debate will be translated into English for international audiences.

Irene Brown

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