The What-If Machine – WhIM Project

WhIM is an acronym for What-If Machine, a three-year research project studying the potential of computer generated fiction. The site has a series of whitepapers that explore many aspects of creative writing, including the development of compelling character arcs, generating dynamic stories around a given topic, and even motivational slogans and poetry. The theories involve machine-learning and the analysis of vast literature libraries, to invent interesting, influential stories that resonate with three-dimensional characters struggling with internal conflicts, and  story arcs built to illustrate characters’ motivated changes.

It’s heady stuff! I’m still getting through it. The researchers generally acknowledge that self-evaluation is in its infancy, as computers have no idea whether their generated plots are at all compelling, much less coherent. A white paper on generating a single-sentence ad slogan was able to serve a tossed salad of poetic buzzwords but nothing close to grammatically-correct language – generations of machine-learning will only make this better. Another paper suggests a system whereby characters evolve, transitioning through the conflicts of seemingly contradictory traits. An arc from “good to bad” for instance, or “loser to hero”, means a character already has elements of both traits which are tested or strengthened based on story events.

Already we have games with branching narratives and non-player characters (NPC) that are influenced by, and react to, the player’s choices – even the actions of other NPC, but nothing close to a completely computer-generated story. That said, the white papers are a treasure of research ideas.
Continue reading “The What-If Machine – WhIM Project”