As part of our AI in Your Community series, I spoke to Elizabeth Clark, who won the Amazon Alexa Prize for her work with Sounding Board, a social bot. Elizabeth is studying natural language processing and working on tools for collaborative storytelling.
Tara Chklovski: Tell me a little bit about what you’re working on.
Elizabeth Clark: Very broadly I’m working on natural language processing, so looking at how language and computers interact, and helping computers process language – either written text or speech. More specifically I’ve been looking at collaborative writing systems, which give people support and offer suggestions to them as they write. I’m exploring how we can build models that will generate suggestions that are helpful to people as they try to write, say, a short story. There are different levels to offer help to people as they write. You could point out grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, or you could offer suggestions about structure. The type of suggestions we’re interested in are focused on the actual content for your story.
Our goal is to look at what type of suggestions people want, and determine how we can give them suggestions that are coherent with the story that has come so far, but are still creative and surprising – all to try and spark their creativity as they write. As for what are useful suggestions, we’ve found that it really depends on who is using the system. Different people want different things out of these suggestions. Some people really like silly suggestions, that have these unexpected elements, and they’ll work really hard to try to find a way to work it into their story, embracing it as a challenge…where other people know exactly what they want to write and if the suggestion isn’t in line with that, then they will just delete it and write their own story. There does seem to be a tradeoff between the level of unexpectedness of the suggestion and how coherent it is with what has come before.