Edinburgh Festival, Generated · 7–31 Aug 2020


For the first time since 1947, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as we know it is not going ahead. But there are years of previous programmes stored in the digital vaults. The Bot, an artificial neural network, goes to work on these data, compiling the world’s first AI-generated event blursb for a virtual arts festival of comedy, plays, musicals, and cabaret… will you lend a hand in the effort?

ImprovBot is explores the junction of human creativity and comedy, and examines how this is affected when an artificial intelligence enters into the mix. The project was originally conceived as a live show for the 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with Edinburgh University researchers collaborating with the world-renowned Improverts, the Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s resident improvised comedy troupe. We had planned to load the previous eight years of programming of the Fringe, which the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society had made available to us in digital format, onto the UK’s National Supercomputer (at the University of Edinburgh). We would then use our neural networks to generate “new” show blurbs from the 2.5 million words of stored data. Using a combination of live and pre-computed AI-generated results, we would challenge our improvised comedy troupe, the Improverts, to perform these new proposed shows on the fly, with presumably hilarious results. Our social media presence would also publicise these virtual shows, with illustrations that counterpoint the generated text, providing an extended meditation and critique of the mushrooming stock image industry, and clichéd depictions of AI, computer science, and academic research. We would see whether online audiences would rise to the provocation, and interact, remix, mashup, and play with the content we produce. We would then stroke our chins, to ask what this all meant.

Unfortunately, given that the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe is not going ahead, the live show cannot go ahead as planned. We have decided to still bring ImprovBot to you in Festival season 2020 as a reminder of the playfulness of the Fringe, to build on remembrances of Fringes past, and to bring some levity at a time when digital connection has become ever more important for us all, during the lockdown of 2020. What tropes and trends will emerge? Do the ghosts of festivals past affect festivals future? Will it make any sense at all? And how can we distantly collaborate with these improvisations in unprecedented times, during normal festival season? We encourage you to respond to the provocations set by the AI, and to interact with us digitally. We will all miss the Festival. The Bot is looking forward to your collaboration!

Our thoughts are with our colleagues in health and social care, and other workers supporting us all during the COVID19 pandemic. We are aware of the economic devastation caused by the cancellation of the Fringe for artists, writers, producers, reviewers, venues, backstage crew, and also the knock-on effects this will have for many throughout our home city of Edinburgh, including the Festival organisations themselves. We hope the festival community is safe, and healthy, and we at the University look forward to working with everyone in future. We are eager to bring ImprovBot: Live to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2021.

And we look forward to your interactions with ImprovBot!

For linking in text:


supercomputer: https://www.archer.ac.uk


API: https://api.edinburghfestivalcity.com

  1. Partners

Access to the Edinburgh Festivals Listings API, and permission for creative (non-profit) reuse of previous programme information, was granted with kind permission from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. We also thank Daisy Francis, Managing Producer of the Improverts, for being receptive to our developing ideas, and the Improverts for being keen to experiment with ImprovBot.

This project has received ethical approval from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

In a pre-Covid19 world, ImprovBot received small project funding from the Edinburgh Futures Institute, in conjunction with the Data Driven Innovation program of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, with additional resources from the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society, and Creative Informatics. We are also grateful to our colleagues at EPCC for their provision of access to computational resources.

For linking…





(Logos needed for all of the above!

  • EFI
  • DDI
  • (dunno about the city region deal, DDI is probably enough)
  • CDCS
  • Creative Informatics
  • EPCC
  • AND FRINGE! Hurrah.
  1. Team

ImprovBot is brought to you by a small but playful team.

ImprovBot is led by Professor Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Terras leads digital aspects of CAHSS research as Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society (the University of Edinburgh’s provider of digital research support to those in the Arts, Humanities and Social Science), Research Director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (a new investment in data-rich education, research and engagement activity that supports the navigation of complex futures at the University of Edinburgh), and Co-Director of Creative Informatics (the ambitious research and development programme based in Edinburgh, which aims to bring the city’s world-class creative industries and tech sector together). For the past twenty years she has worked in the research field of Digital Humanities, using computational techniques to enable research in the arts, humanities, and wider cultural heritage and information environment that would otherwise be impossible. She is a Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and a Trustee of the National Library of Scotland. You can generally find her on twitter @melissaterras.


cahss: https://www.ed.ac.uk/arts-humanities-soc-sci


Gavin Inglis… bio

Rudolf Ammann is an independent scholar, designer and visual artist in London, UK. A serial collaborator with Melissa, he contributed the illustrations to this project, built out the website, and is quite unreasonably boastful of having dreamed up the project’s brand identity from the odd combination of a Victorian typeface and a baby-faced cartoon robot with funny ears.

We are pleased to partner with the Improverts: Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s long-standing resident improvised comedy troupe. Although ImprovBot: Live cannot happen for the Fringe 2020, we are looking forward to seeing how their players will interact with ImprovBot’s suggestions.


  1. How ImprovBot Works (Gavin)
  • Description of data sources
  • Neural Nets
  • How this was implanted
  • If you want to try generative text yourself, here’s where to begin
  1. Colophon (Rudolf)
  • This blog was brought to you with the letter I and the number 3.14159
  • The images were hand crafted by pixies at midnight
  • Etc etc
  1. Contact
  • ImprovBot is a short term project, live during August 2020. For further information about the ImprovBot project, please contact Professor Melissa Terras: m.terras@ed.ac.uk. You can also find information about the project on our Twitter and Instagram accounts.
  • We acknowledge that this work builds upon the programming information of years of previous shows, and its success will be based on whether it can mimic these effectively. Any likenesses to shows or individuals created by our AI is purely coincidental, and we believe this project is covered by the UK Copyright exceptions for text and data mining, and for parody and pastiche. However, if our generated show blurbs or accompanying illustrations cause any concern or distress, please contact us and we will review the posting as soon as possible.
  • Additionally, if you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on our website or on any of our project feeds for which you have not given permission, or is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us in writing stating the following:
    • Your contact details.
    • The details of the material.
    • The URL where you found the material.
    • Proof that you are the rights holder and a statement that, under penalty of perjury, you are the rights holder or are an authorised representative.
  1. Press and Coverage?
  • We’ll add this menu item IF we start to get any coverage or press, and keep it all in one place? So set up the page and set it to SECRET JUST IN CASE?