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Can Robots Tell Stories?

Robots as Storytellers?

Can robots tell stories? And do we even want them to? These are questions I’ve been exploring since founding Tellables over a year ago. I think the answer to both questions is “yes.” Robot voices, even with the current technical limitations, might be able to tell certain types of stories, carefully crafted by talented human authors. The resulting experience could be a new, fun way for people to engage with stories. 

Now it’s time for me to put my ideas to the test!

Introducing My Box of Chocolates

You’ll soon be able to ask Alexa to “open my box of chocolates.” Inside each assortment you’ll find unique chocolate candies, each one paired with a humorous bite-sized story.

The new voice app from Tellables showcases mini humor stories by different authors and it’s currently going through beta testing. Thanks to the folks at Amazon and Pulse Labs for helping us test out the app!

What’s Conversational Storytelling?

We call the My Box of Chocolates experience “conversational storytelling.” To achieve the conversational experience, we don’t use streaming audio–no sound effects, no human narrators. Instead, Alexa describes the chocolates and one of several “chocolatiers” tells the matching story using a text-to-speech Amazon “Polly” voice.

Our most popular voice app Tricky Genie might be considered a first generation version of conversational storytelling. Each story is told using a TTS voice and structured to invite the listener to solve a problem, while choosing from silly alternatives that hopefully generate a smile or a chuckle.

Why Do We Use Robot Voices?

Will text-to-speech voices work for this sort of storytelling experience? That remains to be seen. Most voice app publishers are using voice overs and rich audio drama features for stories. Amazon is discouraging the use of TTS for storytelling.

We think streaming  interactive audio dramas, using voice overs and sound effects, are great. But at Tellables we’re aiming for a different experience; one where you get the sense that a good friend is telling you a funny story and you have an opportunity to chime in.

How Does My Box of Chocolates Work?

Each candy in the box is unique and designed to match a fun story. Listeners hear the description of each chocolate and decide if they’d like to hear the full story, or skip to another candy.

After a story, Alexa offers a comment and asks a question, nudging the listener to relate the story to her or his own personal experience. Friends enjoying chocolate stories together are encouraged to use a “party question” as a prompt for personal storytelling.

Sharing Some of Our Learnings

The journey to create a Voice User Interface design to support My Box of Chocolates has been a long one. That journey continues. In upcoming blog posts, we’ll share some of our experiences in creating our conversational storytelling voice app.

Author Submissions Open!

If you’re a writer, or if you know any writers, please visit and/or direct people to the Chocolates page on our website. We’re actively seeking submissions of stories between 150-200 words. More information is available on the Chocolates and the Author Tips pages.

 

Photo credit: Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

 

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