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In February 2019, we at Ars Technica learned about the Generative Pre-trained Transformer-2 (GPT-2) toolset, a freakish machine-learning algorithm that was trained on roughly 40GB of human-written text. Its ability to generate unique, seemingly human text scared its creators (the non-profit research group OpenAI) enough for them to temporarily lock the tools up for public consumption. (Despite those fears, we at Ars got to access and play with the results two weeks later.)
Since then, GPT-2's public availability has exploded with tons of experiments, and the one that has arguably made the rounds more than any other is AI Dungeon, a freely available "text adventure" that is designed to create a seemingly endless interactive narrative experience. That experience received a formal "sequel" in December, and we've finally tested the results as a staff.
According to its creators, the game combines GPT-2 with roughly 30MB of stories lifted from ChooseYourStory.com, a community-driven hub for interactive fiction. The resulting database is served to users in a funnel of one of four story prompts: fantasy, mystery, apocalyptic, or zombie. (A fifth option lets users write their own one- or two-sentence prompt to describe their own ideal setting.) From there, users are given some sort of verbose prompt, then left to type out whatever action, description, or rumination they imagine doing in that fictional universe.
First of all, this isn't a game. It's interesting, but it's not a game. More like computer-assisted literary masturbation. If you've ever played the party game (or BBS game, if you're old-and-nerdy enough) where each player writes one sentence or paragraph of a story, then the next player writes the next, and so forth... AI Dungeon 2 is a two-player version of that, where at least one player has gotten far too deep into the recreational pharmaceuticals and is having an absolute blast but not really paying attention.
If you approach AI Dungeon like a Zork variant, you'll feel very much un-seen, as it ignores even simple commands—like "inventory"—and goes haring off on wild story elements instead. You get much better results by approaching it as an exercise of equals, in which you and the computer collaborate on a dungeon-themed story. They're still deeply weird results, and you still may not feel paid attention to. But at least the machine will riff with you.
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