Written by Sadie Spencer – Creative Lead at Swamp Motel
They’re stealing our jobs!
No, that isn’t Suella Braverman’s latest Tweet; it’s creatives around the world reeling at the capacity of AI platforms such as DALL.E 2 and ChatGPT. The strategic and imaginative skills that once seemed sacred to humanity have been breached. The pattern of replacing human faculties with machines is nothing new. Before the advent of the printing press, scribes would painstakingly hand write books; before the industrial revolution, humans would perform the repetitive physical tasks that then became mechanised; before computerisation, humans handled a vast array of administrative tasks. But somehow, despite the indomitable technological advances over the years, creatives really thought their skills were safe. So now that the AI-age is upon us, does that mean that creatives will go out of business? Absolutely not. Does it mean artistic practices will be enhanced and evolved? Certainly. Will AI destroy humanity? Erm… we aren’t sure about that one.
At Swamp Motel we’ve been conducting our own experiment into using AI in live experiences. Our most recent independent production, SAINT JUDE, asks audiences to interact with a (fictional) coma patient through a computer console under the conceit that a company, the titular Saint Jude, have discovered how such communication is possible. When we tell people that we’ve made a show with AI, they tend to envisage whole characters that have been built from the ether or yarns of dialogue magicked up by an algorithm. But the truth is much more nuanced than that. As with the most use-cases of AI, our show has been built using a specific platform that caters to a singular, bespoke need. The platform we used is called Charisma and it provided “natural language processing” to enable players to forge unique pathways through a story written by us. Through developing our script using this software we think we might have had a glimpse into how platforms like this will come to enhance brand experiences and how we can use them to deepen brand love.
So, what are the ways for using AI effectively? We’ve looked back on our past productions to think about how they’d look with AI built-in and concluded that there are three major areas of brand building that can flourish when enhanced with AI.
The first thing that strikes us is the ability of AI to make stories with multiple pathways much more easily achievable. Our production, Saint Jude, has thousands of different pathways through it, depending on how each individual audience member responds throughout. And it’s not the first time we have experimented with narratives that offer different routes through them: our 2022 interactive film, The Alter, could be experienced in a multitude of different ways. While many “multi-pathway” stories have used a Bandersnatch (Netflix) model, where users periodically have to choose between options A and B, The Alter allowed viewers to switch between two complimentary stories running concurrently at the tap of a button – by witnessing two sides of a tale one whole picture could be understood. This is a model we successfully harnessed again in creating an interactive experience for Expedia to excite users about the many possibilities a trip to Las Vegas holds. However, when thinking back on how multi-pathway scripting could have been utilised in our previous live experiences such as The Drop or The Boys – Get the V for Amazon Prime the possibilities are mind-boggling. Using software like Charisma could have enabled us to give each audience member a more bespoke journey while keeping the venue and cast size the same. Prior to AI we would theoretically have been able to do this but the cost in creative time, stage management and programming would have made it prohibitively expensive. Those doors are now open to us and it’s like live events can finally break from a linear path and become truly multi-dimensional!
The second major role we see AI playing in live experiences is as a tool for extending the scope of story worlds. What do we mean by that? Well here at Swamp Motel, we take pride in building richly layered stories where the backstories of characters and locations are full of detail. In our 2021 trilogy of online games, Isklander, we tread a delicate tightrope between fact and fiction by creating internet extensions of our fictitious creations: Gumtree accounts selling items ‘owned’ by our characters; backends of websites that could be ‘hacked’ into; social media accounts that were updated daily. Alongside this, our main character spoke to players via a chatbot, according to a script we’d written, monitored by a stage manager. Were we to create the trilogy now this system would undoubtedly be managed by an AI character such as the ones that are buildable on BETA.character.AI. On this platform you can stipulate the characteristics you would like a chatbot to have and then leave the scripting up to it. Much like ChatGPT the results are staggering. Similarly, platforms like Lumen, which are able to generate brand-appropriate videos from stock footage would enable story worlds to be built quickly and using a fraction of the manpower.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the potential for uber-personalisation in live experiences is very exciting. In our experiences, we will always have some kind of ‘on-boarding’ process to educate the audience about how to engage with the experience. We would normally use actors to take on a role within the experience and to check that everyone understands what is being asked of them. In the future, platforms like D-id – which can instantly build animated avatars for a purpose – could take on roles like this. The major advantage with this is the ability for every audience member going through the experience to have their own personal guide, an idea that would be implausible using actors. Moreover, AI programs such as this can be taught to tailor instructions depending on how a user is ‘coping’ with an experience. For example, the AI could assess if an individual or team has particularly enjoyed physical or cerebral challenges and send them down a particular path accordingly. In this way, brands will be able to deepen their connection with each person going through a live experience and strengthen that bond they have to the brand.
So, while the recent developments in AI can feel confronting, it’s worth remembering that every major technological development in history has come hand-in-hand with humans managing higher-order skills. In other words, as the technology improves, we improve with it. Washing machines were intended to free up people’s time, instead they increased how often clothes got washed; the printing press didn’t give book makers more time to sit around reading, they increased the rate of production! Humans are incorrigible. Give them tools and they will take them to the limits of their use. And it is the same with AI. Will AI on its own produce creative masterpieces? No. Might an artist and an AI collaborate to do so?