March 7, 2021
Since last appearing on this very blog in May 2020, the Turing Opera Project, officially titled I am Alan Turing, has made exciting progress and is beginning to fascinate and pique the interest of arts and tech enthusiasts alike. Using artificial intelligence technology that has only recently been made available to the public, the GPT-2, Matthew Suttor, professor at the Yale School of Drama and lead composer on I am Alan Turing, intends to shine a light on the space of contact between human and machine. How do we interact with technology and to what end? How does technology interact with us? How does technology change or reveal our relationships to others? After experiencing this new operatic performance, one Professor Suttor describes as a character study on mid-century-figure Alan Turing, attendees will be left wondering about these questions and more.
But who was Alan Turing? Turing was an outstanding mathamatician and cryptogropher who cracked the German enigma code during World War II. Hearlded by Professor Suttor as the “father of modern computing,” Turing’s life would come to a tragic end. At age 41, Turing would take his own life after being sentenced to receive estrogen hormone treatment as a corrective punishment for being gay.
Information on the project’s beginnings as well as pictures from the early stages of the project’s development can be found in our May 2020 blog post. Since that time I am Alan Turing, managed by Professor Suttor and his team of roughly twelve people ranging in expertise from dramaturgs, to singers, to computer scientists, has been workshopped, including one with the Associated Designers of Canada, and plans for future workshops are ongoing. Professor Suttor and his team intend to have the piece workshopped at various media centers and universities around the globe, and one of those workshops will be hosted by Blended Reality on April 21st.
And due to the workshops thus far, and much like technology itself, the opera is ever changing, and the Turing team are pursuing questions about different ways audience members may engage with the project in a world still grappling with the effects of Covid-19. An online installation is one possibility, and with their newly created website (iamalanturing.com) the team is considering different and fun ways of interacting with potential audience memebers.
Can machines think? Turing was fascinated by this question, and it’s a question the Turing team have picked up and are looking to explore in their own way using OpenAI’s natural language processing model, the GPT-2. The GPT-2 is an algorithm that can express meaningful sentences based on material it’s been fed. With the help of Yale Digital Humanitst, Doug Duhaime and Blended Reality’s Farid Abdul, the Turing team was able to interact with the GTP-2 directly and pose questions to it after it had been trained on Turing’s writings as well as on material he had read in his lifetime. Can a machine write a libretto? The short answer is yes. What would that libretto look like? The Turing team is well on their way to answering this question.
Be sure to stay on the lookout for their next performance at Blended Reality on April 21st. This performance will be followed by a Q and A session with the audience. Contact us if you have any questions regarding this upcoming event or to know of ways you can get involved with Blended Reality.