Bismarck State’s Demonstrates the Potential and Limitations of ChatGPT in AI-Written Plays

Seated in the middle of the stage, two performers engage in casual conversation as they prepare for an upcoming performance.

One actor laments to his friend, “The future is so unpredictable. I mean, people used to think that computers couldn’t write poetry or compose music, but now they can.”

The other performer responds, emphasizing the irreplaceable magic of live performances and acknowledging AI-generated characters in some places.

Bismarck State College recently showcased 16 one-act plays, including “Theatre Kids At The End of the World,” as part of a production called “The AI Plays.” These plays reflect on recent advancements in artificial intelligence and their impact on everyday life.

Introspective and self-referential, these plays often feature the actors portraying students, performers, or both.

Surprisingly, all of the plays were written by the famous chatbot by OpenAI known as ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is primarily a text tool, allowing users to ask it to write something and it will generate a response. Its ability to handle complex instructions has made it incredibly popular and sparked unprecedented attention.

A study conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland named ChatGPT the fastest-growing consumer app in history, as reported by Reuters in February.

Advocates of generative AI highlight its immense educational and creative potential. It can produce prose, poetry, paintings, and even provide directions to the nearest gas station. It can even write an essay summarizing the history of the Roman Empire, all in a relatively short amount of time and for free.

However, this advancement in AI has also led to widespread anxiety and existential fear regarding the future of creative work.

Hollywood writers and actors recently went on strike partly due to concerns that generative AI would sideline creative professionals. They successfully negotiated regulations on how this technology can be utilized by film and television producers.

In “The AI Plays,” the students at Bismarck State College Theatre express their viewpoints on this debate.

“As artists, we need to take the lead in addressing this issue,” says Director Dean Bellin, an associate professor of technical theater at Bismarck State College.

The group decided to have ChatGPT write the scripts as an interesting way to showcase the progress made in AI technology.

They provided ChatGPT with general outlines for each scene and gave the AI specific writing prompts based on their genuine feelings towards AI, ranging from reverence to skepticism to indifference.

The scripts were performed in their unedited form, embracing any quirks that arose.

In one scene, a woman chopping vegetables expresses her frustration with the rapidly advancing world of technology. She reflects on her experiences witnessing various technological developments, emphasizing the uncertainty she feels.

Government oversight

In 2023, lawmakers grappled with defining, establishing standards for, and regulating artificial intelligence. Congress considered the challenges it presents to consumers, workers, campaigns, and national security. Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed on the need for government oversight. Many states are also studying the issue and considering AI legislation in upcoming sessions.

The North Dakota Legislature is also addressing this matter, with the Information Technology Committee researching potential paths for AI investment and regulation during this interim session.

During their next meeting on December 14, lawmakers will listen to presentations from the Department of Public Instruction, the university system, the attorney general’s office, and other organizations to discuss the future of AI in the state.

Earlier this year, the statehouse passed a law preventing AI from being granted human rights, extending the ban to animals, the environment, and inanimate objects as well.

Representative Cole Christensen, R-Rogers, explained during the session that the legislation aimed to “define personhood and retain exclusive rights for human beings.”

Several plays explore the concept of AI sentience. In one scene, a medieval court launches a witch hunt to uncover a robot that is pretending to be human. Ultimately, the village embraces the machine with open arms.

Despite the remarkable similarity between AI-generated work and human writing, tools like ChatGPT do not think like humans.

ChatGPT and other generative AI models, such as DALL-E for creating images, are trained using vast amounts of data to approximate human language, photography, art, and more.

However, this approximation still falls short. When asked to write creatively, ChatGPT’s output often appears choppy, repetitive, and lacks depth.

Several scenes in “The AI Plays” featured circular dialogue, with characters continuously reiterating the same few points until the scene concluded.

Bellin mentioned that he and his students learned a great deal about scriptwriting by analyzing where ChatGPT’s writing fell short.

Bismarck State College is not the first educational institution to explore AI theater. Over the summer, students at the University of Wollongong in Australia performed a three-act drama written by ChatGPT, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in June.

In that case, the performers were more involved in the writing process, as they had to make numerous adjustments to the app’s output before they were satisfied.

Earthquakes in academia

Colleges and universities are considering AI for various reasons, including its potential to facilitate academic dishonesty.

While AI may not be capable of producing flawless essays, students may be able to pass off work generated by ChatGPT as their own by proofreading it and making minor tweaks, according to Bellin.

Many higher education institutions have already established policies and guidelines regarding AI. A survey conducted by UNESCO estimated that approximately 13% of universities worldwide have issued official guidance on the use of this technology.

Currently, the North Dakota University System, of which Bismarck State College is a part, has not implemented any specific regulations.

However, the university system has formed a task force to help navigate the opportunities and challenges presented by AI in higher education after the release of ChatGPT.

During a State Board of Higher Education meeting on December 7, Chancellor Mark Hagerott urged the University System to invest in AI technology. He highlighted that other higher education institutions are actively pursuing AI initiatives, describing it as an “arms race.”

Hagerott, who has a background in cybersecurity, emphasized the need for adaptability and preparedness in the face of changing landscapes and unknown future scenarios.

In 2020, the University of Florida hired 100 new faculty members to focus on AI research while the University of Albany committed $200 million towards integrating AI across all academic programs. Arizona State University formed a community of practice to explore the integration of AI into classrooms this fall.

According to Hagerott, these developments in AI represent seismic shifts in academia.

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