Prague theatre to stage play written by artificial intelligence, on 100th anniversary of Čapek’s R.U.R.

Photo: archive of Švanda Theatre

To mark the centenary of the premiere of Karel Čapek’s famous play R.U.R., which first used the word “robot”, Prague’s Švanda Theatre is rehearsing a play written by artificial intelligence. The play, entitled ‘AI: When a Robot Writes a Play’ will premiere on Saturday evening and will be screened online.

Karel Čapek’s dystopian theatre play, R.U.R. (or Rossum’s Universal Robots), originally staged in Prague in January 1921, introduced the word ‘robot’ into English – and to science fiction as a whole.

Photo: Alena Hrbková / Švanda Theatre

Now, a hundred years later, Prague’s Švanda Theatre will stage a play created by robots, or, to be more precise, by a team of computer scientists and drama experts led by a computational linguist.

The aim of the project is to explore how artificial intelligence actually performs in a human creative discipline and to what extent it is able to create an enjoyable theatrical script.

A similar project has been carried out earlier this year by Czech Radio, which published five short stories written by artificial intelligence.

The idea to stage a play written by AI was initiated by Czech innovator Tomáš Studeník, who wanted to celebrate the centenary of the invention of the word robot.

“I thought, What if we turn the idea upside down and instead of a man, Čapek, writing a play about robots, we have a robot writing a play about people!”

Tomáš Studeník,  photo: Jponcarova,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0

Studeník then approached computational linguist Rudolf Rosa from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the Charles University, who generated the text using an open-source language module GPT-2, created by Elon Musk’s research company Open AI.

Speaking to Czech Radio, Robert Rosa explained how exactly the programme works:

“The systems used today are deep artificial neuron networks vaguely inspired by how the human brain works. So to a limited extent, they try to imitate the processes of the human brain.

“The GPT-2 model can generate texts in English by reading millions of different texts from the internet, including news, books and film titles. It learns the structure of a given text and then generates a similar one.

Photo: archive of Švanda Theatre

“In our case, we fed the module part of a screenplay, containing the names of the characters and their replicas, and it generated the rest of text. Actually, we were quite surprised by the final result, which only needed minor adjustments.”

The result of the process, which took months to complete, was a series of dialogues, from which the people at the Švanda Theatre selected the best ones to compose the play. It is the story of the joys and sorrows of everyday life from a robot’s point of view.

The play will be performed in Czech with English subtitles and followed by a debate with artificial intelligence and theatre experts.

The event will be streamed live by Czech Centres, which are a partner of the project, as well as on the website