We Forced A Bot To Write This Show | Review of new Radio 4 comedy © DJ Shin/CC BY-SA 3.0
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We Forced A Bot To Write This Show

Review of new Radio 4 comedy

There’s much talk about whether Artificial Intelligence will ever outperform humans in their jobs. Well, this silly Radio 4 comedy proves that people can take on bots at their own game – and defeat them with the power of ridicule.

We Forced A Bot To Write This Show imagines how large-language AI models such as ChatGPT might take on pop culture. But without the input of humanity, it’s always getting things a bit wrong, whether in clunky, over-literal language, plots laden with explicit exposition, or not comprehending how people really act or talk.

Artificial Intelligence has come a long way since US comedy writer Keaton Patti started posting his original I Forced A Bot… scripts on social media, but the premise is still strong. After all, the gag is as much a spoof of the source material as it is on clunky machine learning. Both parodists and AI software have the same basic programming – they have to analyse content and identify its tropes to either convincingly mock or replicate the original.

British writers, The Skewer producer Jon Holmes with Sarah Dempster and Gareth Ceredig, have taken the idea and anglicised it – and they know their media. Their Question Time might be nonsensical, but it has the essence of sounding like the real thing. 

There are some proper jokes a bot could never write, such as describing the Army as ‘the RAF of the ground’, while much of the comedy adopts a ‘say what you see’ approach to describe the programmes as if viewed by an idiot incapable of contextualisation.

But the best sketch is probably the spoofHallmark Christmas movie,  one of Patti’s original offerings. They are so formulaic they are easy to exaggerate and parody: ‘Interior. Snow Globe Refillery Shop in a small American town. We see a single other tearfully filling snow globe with Christmas juice. She is a widow. Her husband died in every war.’  Then comes the bad guy from the big city… 

Output that takes itself way too seriously benefits from the way an AI would amplify its faux-gravitas. Later episodes ape Game of Thrones (‘Sisters, how many do you have?’ ‘I possess zero. I obsess dragons’) and ridiculously pretentious and meaningless perfume adverts. If you were to be told Dior had a real commercial in which a ‘lusty ghost’ intoned ‘stench is deceit’s kiss’, you’d probably believe it. 

The stilted  AI side of the joke does start to wear thin after a while, so limiting this 15-minute episode is a wise move. But the distinctive mangled syntax of semi-sensical phrases creates a self-contained but identifiable world, giving the show the hallmarks of a weird cult favourite.

• Episode one of We Forced A Bot To Write This Show aired last night and is now available on BBC Sounds

Review date: 21 Dec 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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