• Alec Balasescu

The Storyteller vs. the Narrative Generator

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

We are beings of narration. We tell stories to ourselves in order to remind us who we are. But who we are is forever changing, as stories spring out of the waters in the quick sands of memory. We are what we become and we have been what we remember. Never the same, just always present.

I have been reminded of this by Sasha Colby’s lecture at Simon Fraser University -“Literary Pages, Public Stages: Tales in dramatizing research”. The lecture started with a reminder from Walter Benjamin “The Storyteller”- essay that observes the decline of storytelling caused by the transformation of techniques of sharing information – from oral to written (the novel) and from theatre to cinematography. Benjamin has a particular view on cinematography, observing its non-engaging character and relating it with the rise of totalitarianism. However, our storytelling habit did not die away, despite the advances in technology, and the ever shifting changes in the form of storytelling. Has the storytelling been replaced by dry information sharing? Hard to say, the arguments can go both ways. Probably most important for story telling is the presence of the public and the direct interaction with it, regardless of the scale. This generates or activates empathy based responses, both from the public and from the narrator. Mediated contact – such as this one, facilitated by communication devices –significantly reduces the possibility of expressing reciprocity, and the generation of empathy.

In this light, I wonder about the way in which A.I. will tell stories about humanity. How will the Machine Anthropologist navigate the data aggregates in order to tell stories about us? Or, will it do it at all? One of the fears expressed in most of critical approaches on A.I. is the lack of empathy in algorithms. Is it possible for the A.I. to replicate the human storyteller, and to what extent? I imagine – and I may be absolutely wrong – that our stories will not be told anymore, but that specialized narrative machines will generated them, along with their own stories. In somehow already happens, the film industry working more often than not with screenplay generators working on narrative algorithms.

Now, in order to keep true to my theoretical stance, I do not think that there is a separation between humans and machines, yet. We are, as we have always been, in full process of co-creation; we have always been cyborgs, but, at the same time we, as humans, need to affirm that separation. The question is: will ever the machines feel and respond to that same need of separation from humans? And what happens when they will start?

#AIethics #Storytelling

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