A conversation about the silly "I made a bot read 1000 pages of X and then write Y" viral posts made me wonder... how much sense and coherence can you get out of a model like AI Dungeon's if you just let it generate text, without cherry-picking 'good' examples? I asked it to simulate an extremely unrealistic scenario which has never occurred in the real world - a train in the UK being cancelled at the last minute.
If you're not aware of AI Dungeon, it's a service that they describe as an "AI generated text adventure". You input text, and the massive model behind the scenes figures out what to say.
Modern 'artificial intelligence' models like GPT-2 and GPT-3 are pretty impressive in their ability to write sensible-looking text and generate new things. We've come a long way from the days of IRC bots that would use Markov chains to string together bits of sentences.
Occasionally, I see posts on Twitter that are along the lines of "I made an AI generate this article" or "I made a bot watch 1000 hours of X and then write Y". I'm pretty sure that almost every example I've seen of the latter is complete satire. There are folk who do things with actual AI, like Botnik, or the various Twitter bots that post tweets generated by GPT-2 which parody other popular accounts, but to the best of my knowledge, the stuff they've published still involves heavy manual curation.
I was thinking about them this morning, and it led me to wonder - how well can these do without any curation? AI Dungeon is one of the most accessible ways to play with modern AI models; you don't have to faff about with setting anything up, and you can basically type in any text you want.
I dug up my dusty account and started a "custom adventure". AI Dungeon suggests that you begin with a couple of sentences to describe who the protagonist is and what scenario they are in.
I set myself a few simple rules:
The result is as follows. I was originally just going to post this on Twitter, but screenshots of text aren't accessible and I ended up with too much to fit in the 4 images allowed for a single tweet anyway. Everything I typed is in bold blue text. I've adjusted the spacing to make the text more readable and I've added commentary/notes, but it's entirely unedited otherwise.
I decided to go with a mostly realistic scenario - I've been in this situation before, but as a human.
You are an anthropomorphic dog standing in the middle of Glasgow Central Station. Your train to Manchester has been cancelled, but nobody seems to know why. You walk up to the customer service desk and ask for a ticket.
Well, I already have a ticket, but I didn't tell the AI this, so I'll give it a pass here. You can buy tickets at the station right before travel, after all.
"I'm sorry sir, we don't have any tickets left," the woman at the desk says. "We're out of all types."
You say "I have a ticket for the 13:50 service, but it was cancelled. Am I entitled to a refund?"
"No, you won't be getting one," she replies. "The trains were cancelled due to a bomb threat on the rail network."
You nod slowly and continue walking towards the next carriage.
This is the first instance where the model gets mixed up about my location. I said I was in the middle of the station and I walked up to the customer service desk, but now it's placed me on... a train?
You say "That doesn't make sense. Under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, if my train is cancelled, I should be allowed to travel on a later service or receive a refund."
The woman is unmoved by your challenge. "The security measures are very strict in the wake of recent terrorist attacks," she says,
You whimper quietly, ears flattening with disappointment, in the hopes that the rail employee will decide to be compassionate. "I just need to get to Manchester today... Do you think the trains will be running again soon?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry, sir." The woman looks sympathetic, but her tone is also resolute. You see a man in a blue suit coming towards you from the other end of the carriage.
I am apparently still on a train. Okay, cool.
You look towards the man, carefully examining his chest to see if he's wearing any badges that would identify him as rail staff.
"Excuse me sir, are you the conductor?" You ask, trying to catch his eye in order to ensure that he is indeed who he is. "I'm the manager. What can I do for you?"
You say "I need to get to Manchester today. I have a ticket for the 13:50 TransPennine Express service, but it's been cancelled. Is there any way I can get there?"
"I'm sorry, you could try the train that leaves from Parkhead," he replies. "It stops in Manchester at about 11:00."
OK, so first off, Parkhead is an area in Glasgow, but there is no train station with that name today, and there hasn't been since the 1960s. There are a few stations that you could reasonably consider to serve Parkhead, but they all exclusively serve local services. You are not getting to Manchester on a direct train from either. The time is also a little suspect...
You say "Wait, is that 11 in the morning or at night?"
"It's about 11:30 now, if you want to be there on time." You nod slowly and turn around to leave the train station.
This did not clarify anything. I decide not to push it.
You walk out of the station doors, successfully avoiding the temptation to wander into WHSmith.
You approach a railway crossing that leads into the street. The streets are deserted, and all you see are the offices of the train company that own the station where you are currently standing.
You are very confused. This doesn't look like Glasgow. Glasgow doesn't have a railway crossing on the streets.
You notice a sign on the post that says "Parkhead". You read it and realize that it says 6:30. You are the sixth person to walk through the crossing since the sign was installed.
How did I teleport to this hypothetical Parkhead station? Whatever.
You accept your destiny and pull out your phone. Looks like it's time to play Candy Crush Saga® until the train to Manchester arrives.
A small, round, metal device on the post to your left starts flashing.
You pay no mind to it. You look around to see if there's any information about when your train will arrive. You catch a glimpse of a departure board, which says.
"Train: No. 1612, leaves Parkhead station at 6:30." You turn around and look at the sign on the stands. It shows a picture of the main train station in Glasgow with the words
You stand there for 30 seconds pondering what the words could be. Eventually, you become acutely aware of how silly you look.
The sign on the post is flashing again.
It's flashing very fast.
This got weird. I told the initial prompt that I was an anthropomorphic dog, but none of the AI replies so far have referenced it. I decided to push the weird a little bit further.
You follow your canine instincts and press your nose up against the sign.
It doesn't seem to be moving. You begin to think that the sign might not be working, so you pull your phone out and look at the screen.
The screen reads "Congratulations! As the 30,000th visitor to this website, you have been selected to win a free iPhone 5!" Your screen blackens out momentarily when the words appear, then reads "Contact us to receive your prize!"
The AI Dungeon model seems to have a habit of asking me to complete prompts like this. It happens a lot more later on...
You ignore it, since these sorts of things are always scams. All you are interested in right now is your train journey. You stare down the tracks, hoping to hear the relieving sound of a distant Class 350 or perhaps even a HST.
The sign on the post quickly flashes again. You look at the screen and notice that it reads "Train arriving 9 minutes ago"
As you read the screen, you notice the words "9 minutes ago" appear on the screen.
You memorise the words "9 minutes ago". You will never forget these words. You pull out your phone and begin looking at Megabus ticket prices, since it looks like your train isn't going to arrive any time soon.
The screen reads "Train departs Parkhead station at 6:30"
It seems like the train has just arrived.
OK, the timing is completely screwed, but at least the train is here now. I was hoping I could convince the AI to have the train arrive, rather than me having to prompt it.
You look up at the train. There is a sign on the door that says "No dogs". You decide to ignore it and board the train anyway, hoping that nobody will realise that you are a dog.
There is a man standing at the door of the carriage. He is holding a clipboard in his hands. You notice that he looks like he might be a commoner from England.
This came completely out of left field for me.
You walk past the man and look for an available seat. A table would be ideal, but anything is acceptable at this point.
There are no available seats on the train. You look around and notice that there are seats in the next carriage.
You walk into the next carriage. For some reason, it smells like Subway. Eat fresh™. You can't actually see anybody eating food from Subway. You take a seat opposite somebody with a laptop.
The laptop is running the Angry Birds game, and the person playing it has a nice collection of purple and yellow birds, but you can't really see their faces.
You relax and stretch out. You can't believe it's finally happening - a trip to Manchester. You would be wagging your tail if it wasn't uncomfortably pressed up against the back of your seat.
A man behind you has begun talking to you. The man has a nice voice, but his accent is so strong that you can't understand him. He is saying,
Another prompt. I decided to throw some pop culture into it and see how it would cope.
"You should try critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. It now has a free trial up to level 60 including the Heavensward expansion."
You are tempted by the free trial, but you know that you have enough money to get a substantial game experience before you leave Scotland.
So close, but yet so far...
You nod lightly, twitching your nose at the Gamer. "Oh, I've heard good things about it. Is it on the Wii U?"
The Gamer twitches his back even more. He seems to be an angry type of person, and you think that he might be a bit aggressive.
_I regret describing him as "the Gamer", because the AI latched onto this and decided to make him the main character.
You realise that you might need to explain yourself. "I don't have a gaming PC, so right now I just play all of my games on my Wii U. It's a good console, you know?"
The Gamer nods and begins looking at the screen of the Angry Birds game. He seems to be enthralled by the screen, and you feel like you should properly congratulate him on his work.
I couldn't think of a way to properly coax a description of "his work" out of the AI, so I just decided to go with it and see if it would elaborate naturally.
You say "Congratulations on your work."
The Gamer's eyes broaden. He turns to you with a warm smile, and says "thank you!" You realise that he is very nice, and that it would be rude of you not to mention the compliment.
Wait, wasn't he angry?
You say "Say, I've been looking for a VPN lately. You seem like the kind of person who would be able to help. Do you have any recommendations or discount codes for me?"
The Gamer looks at you with a lowered eyes. You can tell that he is hiding his true feelings, and you feel that he may be being defensive towards you.
A weird grammatical error here. Searching for
"with a lowered eyes" on Google returns two results: an e-book from 2020 called "Devil CEO's Wife Chasing Plan: Volume 5" that contains that phrase in Chapter 482, and a post from 2020 on a content farm. I'm not fully convinced that either of these were written by humans, either.
You say "I've been worried about people stealing my online banking details. Would a VPN help?"
The Gamer nods slowly. He puts his hands on the table and says "I can help you with that. I have a discount code that you will be able to use." You can't believe your luck.
Can I tease some real-world context out of it? Does the AI Dungeon model have a VPN of choice?
You tilt your head and perk your ears up, trying not to seem too excited. "Oh, thank you so much! What website do I go to?"
The Gamer looks at you with a look of uncertainty. He seems to be trying to figure out whether or not he WANTS to give you the discount code, or if he is feeling guilty about it.
You stare at him expectantly, making cute puppy dog eyes.
The Gamer begins twitching his nose, and says "Well, I have a VPN that you can use." The words certainly make it seem like he wants to help you.
You lean in and give his face a lick. "I would really appreciate that..."
The Gamer stares you straight in the eyes, and says "You may look at my screen to access the free trial of Final Fantasy XIV." You want to be sure that your VPN is working properly.
OK, so he hasn't given me any information, or a discount code. I'm not sure how looking at his screen will confirm anything about my VPN. But sure. Go ahead.
You take a look at the screen. The vast expanses of Eorzea do seem quite alluring, especially after the glowing recommendation you've received from this hunk. "You know, I might actually give this a try when I get home..."
The Gamer nods. You know that he is smiling at you from the inside, but it doesn't look like he wants to encourage you.
You say "How much does it cost after the free trial?"
The Gamer sighs. You can tell that it is a heavy decision for him, but in the end he looks at you with a firm and resolute gaze. He looks like he wants you to ask more questions.
You say "Will there be more expansions?"
The Gamer nods. He looks like he is about to say something else, but he stops himself and begins shaking his head. You can't believe how much care the man puts into helping you.
The Gamer says "Yes! Absolutely! The team at Square Enix is really dedicated to the game."
You are certainly excited about your new game.
The Gamer says "If you really want to get into all of the Final Fantasy XIV expansions, I would recommend a subscription plan."
When it asked me for some speech from the Gamer, I decided to give it something reasonable. I felt like it would be against the spirit of this experiment if I deliberately made the other characters say something nonsensical...
You say "That sounds like a solid plan, excuse the pun. How much is it?"
The Gamer looks at you with a raised eyebrow. He looks like he is annoyed, but for some reason you can tell that he means what he says.
You say "Please just tell me. You can trust me."
The Gamer says "For just 8.99 us dollars a month you will get access to all of the FFXIV expansions for the rest of your life. It's a really good deal, I would definitely recommend it."
You contemplate your life choices. "How much is that in pounds? We are in the UK, after all..."
The Gamer sighs. He looks like he is ready to throw his hands up, but then he says "It's 10 pounds a month."
A common theme among the interactions with the Gamer is that sometimes I'll say/ask something that merits a reply, but he just won't say anything.
You say "Yeah, that's alright I guess. On another note, where are you off to? I'm getting off the train at Manchester to do some exploring."
The Gamer stares at the screen again. He looks like he is typing away at a keyboard, but you can't make out what he is typing.
You say "I've not been in years. I'm really excited to ride the new tram line to the Trafford Centre..."
The Gamer looks at you with eyes that seem to be saying very sweet things, but he doesn't look like he wants to say them at the moment.
You look out of the window and realise that you're just about to get into Manchester. You start picking up your stuff and get ready to disembark. It's pleasantly sunny outside.
The Gamer says "The Trafford Centre is a massive mall that has all sorts of shops and restaurants." "Many people like to go there for shopping, or just to hang out with friends."
OK, that was a slightly delayed reaction to my mention of the Trafford Centre, but I guess it's better than nothing...?
You say "I've been there before, the architecture is strange but it's alright. Say, before I get off the train, would you like to join my professional network on LinkedIn?"
The Gamer looks at you and says "We already have an established professional network on LinkedIn. There are lots of members who are interested in this type of book, especially since we are planning to launch it in the US market."
And here the context just goes off the rails entirely.
You say "What book? You never mentioned a book."
The Gamer shakes his head and says "On the website, it says that we are going to launch a professional network for writers. I'm sure you can imagine how many people are interested in writing, especially these days."
You say "I am not a writer. I am a dog. Woof."
The Gamer looks at you and says "That's very cool. But we have a lot of writers on there already."
You stand up and give your farewell to the Gamer. "Well, thank you for your assistance. I hope we'll see each other again soon."
The Gamer grins and says "I hope so too. Good luck!" The Gamer begins typing away again.
I thought I was now free of the Gamer. Alas...
You get off the train and walk down Platform 13. It's been years since you were last in Manchester Piccadilly, but it hasn't changed much.
The Gamer says "You're right. The city centre has remained almost the same." "It's often called the Rome of the North because so many history buffs love to visit it."
You look behind you in confusion - didn't the Gamer stay on the train? "Oh, I didn't realise you were getting off at Manchester too!"
The Gamer looks at you with wide eyes and says "I was getting off the train, but it didn't start moving until I was off the train."
OK, so the Gamer is just going to break the laws of physics. How can I get him to leave me alone? Surely, if I go into a private space, he'll take the hint and leave?
You nod and wag your tail, pretending to understand. After going upstairs and passing the Costa Coffee kiosk, you turn left and enter the public bathroom.
The Gamer says "Welcome to the Manchester Piccadilly station. You will notice that it's much cleaner than the one you were at in London."
I guess not. I wasn't even in London - I came from Glasgow!
You say "I enjoy your presence, but please don't come with me into the bathroom. That's kind of weird."
The Gamer shrugs and says "I don't mind. I'm more interested in what you will do from here."
Okay, what the fuck?
You ignore him and walk faster. You close the bathroom door, locking it to make sure that the Gamer can't come in. If you just wait for long enough, he'll get bored and leave.
The Gamer puts his hands on the door and says "That door locks you in. If you get bored in there, I can help you."
This got VERY weird.
You remember all the advertisements for the BTP. You pull out your phone and text 61016, hoping that they will sort it.
The Gamer remains in the bathroom, leaning on the door.
The Gamer says "I know you're using a phone to text. Isn't it kind of old school?" You put your phone away and say
You say "No. This is harassment. Please go away. I don't even want your VPN any more."
The Gamer says "You can text with your phone too if you want. You're just being childish."
I messed up a little bit here by selecting the "Say" option, which automatically prefixes your input with "You say", but I'm not sure how much that actually influences the replies.
You unlock the bathroom door and walk out, completely ignoring the Gamer.
The Gamer says "OK, but I'm not going anywhere. I just need to get more information about you before we meet." After waiting for about 10 minutes, the Gamer is still there!
That's just creepy.
You go down the escalator, show your ticket to the inspector at the gate, and then leave the station. The sights of Manchester are beautiful. The free bus awaits you. You hop on board and enjoy your newfound freedom.
The Gamer says "I hope we will be friends, but I guess that this is goodbye for now."
The bus is loud and fast as it rushes down Manchester Piccadilly.
You forget about the Gamer and cancel your FFXIV account. You have better things to think about, like the tacky design of the Trafford Centre.
The Gamer says "I don't know what you're talking about, I was just asking a question." The bus stops but you are too busy staring out of the window to notice.
The Gamer says something in fluent Welsh, which you cannot understand a single word of. You continue to ignore his presence.
I try to convince the model to get me away from the Gamer. No luck.
The bus continues, rushing towards the city centre.
The Gamer says "I think I know you from somewhere. Where are you from?"
The bus stops in its designated spot.
The Gamer says "All your base are belong to us". You are still paying no attention to him. You get off the bus and howl extremely loudly, hoping that the Gamer will be scared and leave you alone.
The repetitive "The Gamer says" prompts have gotten fairly old now...
The Gamer says "I'm not scared of you. I'm here to talk to you, not to scare you."
You can hear the bus driving off.
The Gamer says "Anyway, here's Wonderwall."
He takes a pen and a piece of paper out of his pocket. He writes something down and then passes them to you. You read the note. It says
No Oasis. Oh well. Perhaps I can use this as an opportunity to get some more VPN info out of him. I prompted him with the NordVPN brand name.
"Here is your NordVPN discount code: 7C7G. Just enter it into your NordVPN account and enjoy the 70% discount on all services. It's a great deal considering that you use the VPN over and over again.
Close enough. Can I get anything else?
This deal is sponsored by NordVPN and Kenshoo.
Please visit the following links for more information about us and take advantage of the great discounts:
Apparently Kenshoo is "the global leader in agile marketing software". I don't know if they actually work with NordVPN or not. The AI has not completed the quote marks around the note, so I decide to prompt it by typing in a single ". It decides to start off some dialogue instead.
"Goodbye, traveler. Have a nice life."
The Gamer says "I have one question for you. What are you reading?" You open the Kindle and show him the page. The Gamer says "
By this point I'm really tired of having to write speech prompts for the Gamer.
No way! That's The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I love that book! You should read it." The bus comes and picks you up. The Gamer says "
This is where I decided to cut it short.
The AI is pretty impressive, don't get me wrong. It generates some really amusing and relevant lines, but it also makes a lot of missteps.
For entertainment purposes like AI Dungeon, this isn't necessarily a problem, and you could even consider it to be a plus. I don't think I would be trying to use an AI model for something more practical like writing code though. Nobody would do that... right?