“Rennes is a mix of Paris and London, full of peddlers and barbell-lifting street performers. A group of men stand in the middle of the street. One of them says: “Do you want to play? We fight for no reason and then we go get drunk at the bar!” If these lines don’t make sense, that’s normal: they were written by an artificial intelligence (AI). In this case, the Aidungeon.io software. Based on the latest advances in automatic text generation, this free site offers Internet users stories in which they are the heroes. It is possible to influence the course of the adventure: the computer adapts. This robot-storyteller, launched three years ago by the company Open AI, creates intrigues by referring to a corpus of online texts.
I decided to tease him by just asking him to show me around Rennes. In order to give him a context, I made him “ingest” excerpts from sites and guides dedicated to the Breton capital. Result: a text where the rare flashes of logic only underline the general absurdity. It begins in a rather normal way: “You are a British traveler in Rennes. In the city center, you see a market stall full of exotic fruits and vegetables. A young woman in an orange sari is smiling at you”. As a good tourist, I ask the woman if the orange sari is fashionable around here. The computer grinds, then displays the answer: “The orange sari is a typical Rennes costume”. Oh good.
He continues: “You ask where to eat French cuisine. The woman takes you to a small restaurant”. There, I order pancakes and ask my guide about local customs. “The woman explains to you that, every year, on this date, the inhabitants throw into a common grave the bodies of those whom no one will ever mourn”. A little taken aback, I ask for details from the AI, which embroiders: “The woman tells you that the pit is located in front of the cathedral of Rennes, and that the ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. Suddenly, an alarm starts to scream.
“The orange sari is a typical Rennes costume”
It’s starting to get a lot of emotions. I intervene to correct the narration: it will not be an alarm, but a musician playing the biniou. The computer picks up on my suggestion: “The woman explains to you that the bagpipes are very common in Rennes because it is a typical French instrument of the region”. This passage, very specific, probably comes from Wikipedia. If we came back to this story of the mass grave?
“The woman stares at you: ‘The biniou has everything to do with the mass grave!’ You finally understand. The biniou is the way the French say goodbye to the dead…” On this revelation, the AI dismisses me with an inspired epilogue: “You leave Rennes with your head held high, proud to have known this exotic experience in an exotic country” . So I’m leaving without having attended the mass grave at 5 p.m., but with the conviction that a robot will never replace a writer.
This whirlwind visit left me hungry. I restart a game. This time I tell the computer that I want it to be a little more creative. He immediately takes my instructions into account: “You are coming to Rennes. Suddenly you see a man running away. He looks like someone you need to talk to. He’s a friend of yours. His name is Jean-Claude (sic)”. I would like to know what this famous Jean-Claude that I am supposed to know looks like.
“The biniou has everything to do with the mass grave”
That’s good, there are other AIs specialized in creating images on demand, able to combine different concepts and styles. For example, “a stained glass window representing a dog, in the style of Van Gogh”. The illustrations in this article were made with the IA Midjourney, which I asked to represent Rennes or the Lices market. Problem: the software tends to go into a spin when asked for a specific reference that it does not know. Or a photorealistic human face. Result: his breathtaking dreamlike visions can quickly turn into a freak show.
More than typing the discussion with my new companion. I write a few lines to give the computer something to grind: “Hey, Jean-Claude! What are you doing in Rennes, my friend? Answer: “I’m a student, it’s going flawlessly. I have lots of friends here. And you? I explain that I’m looking for “typical local experiences.” “Okay (in French in the text, editor’s note). There is a big music festival every year in Rennes. It’s, like, the Super Bowl of music! It’s called the Festival de Nuit de Rennes. You must go there! »
No festival of this name exists here. So I’m going to go to an event straight out of the “imagination” of my virtual guide. I have an idea: what if I took Jean-Claude on board with me? I type: “Great idea! Let’s go together, okay? “Jean-Claude looks at you, and his eyes swell.” He is worried about you, a foreigner going to a festival, but he decides to trust you”. No, Jean-Claude, don’t puff your eyes out, please. Just take me to the “Super Bowl Rennes de la Musique”.
Picked up by a drunk AI
No sooner said than done. Two lines later: “Jean-Claude wears a t-shirt with the image of a hip-hop artist. The Rennes Super Festival seems to welcome 100,000 people”. Holy atmosphere! To think that I would have missed it if I had gone out to get some fresh air in the real Rennes instead of staying in the dark in front of my PC. I decide to test the limits of the AI by asking Jean-Claude to bring us back to drink.
“Okay.” He runs off like a little boy. He’s cute, in case you were wondering.” I didn’t ask myself that, thank you very much. After a few seconds of the AI searching for words, Jean-Claude returns. I press him with questions about the origin and brand of his beers. I want to see if the computer is able to display info on the subject. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. “Jean-Claude says: “Yeah, they are typical of Rennes. Entirely French. You like ? Here, try.” You pull the tab carefully. You smell of alcohol. It is bitter and strong”.
“You should come with me. We could find you a girlfriend”
Yes, well, it’s beer, what. I take this opportunity to ask JC if he speaks a little Breton, since the time he has been around. “Yes, a few words. We have fun here. There are so many things to do! You should come with me. We could find you a girlfriend.” I wonder if this is a discreet way of asking me if I’m single. I decide to change the subject. I need to know more about the bands playing tonight. Jean-Claude (decidedly my safe guy in terms of festivals that don’t exist) has a headliner to recommend to me: “’I know exactly which one I want to see! I heard them on the radio yesterday! They are called GAR-POIS. It’s like rock, but a little reggae rock. We absolutely have to go dancing!” You dance a long time and laugh a lot”.
While our soles are heating up the dancefloor, I suggest that Jean-Claude introduce him to the young woman in an orange sari from my previous virtual visit: “She’s nice, but a little creepy”. But he has other ideas in mind. “Jean-Claude says: ‘I like you. Are you a girl? You’re a girl !” “You’re drunk, Jean-Claude,” I reply. He finds nothing to retort, and breaks there: “You are dancing on a reggae remix of a song called All you need is love”. Did I just put a rake on an AI? After all these adventures, it’s time to set sail. “Are you tired, Jean-Claude? Apparently, yes: “You lean on each other as you walk through the darkness.” Your feet make you suffer like martyrdom, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the best night of your life.” If a robot says it…
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Rennes – My crazy evening with artificial intelligence in Rennes
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