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Theatre provides the stage for blending the arts and AI

Alan Flurry

Theatre and Film Studies associate professor John Gibbs brings his excitement for science to his teaching and research in drama. All along, he knew the potential of artificial intelligence was lurking. Now that computer-aided design is ready to have an impact on just about every field, Gibbs is prepared to meet the new tools more than halfway. Our colleagues in UGA Research Communications share the story:

“I was born about five years too early,” he said.

When Gibbs applied for colleges, there simply weren’t many computer science programs immersed in AI research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one option, but it was the one program he wasn’t accepted to.

For the time being, Gibbs was forced to go in a different direction. He went to Princeton University to study physics, then earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the Ohio State University in English language and literature.

Then began a long hiatus from his curiosity about AI, during which he built different skills in arts and animation—until 2015, when he was finally able to scratch that 30-year-old itch. With his kids a little older and having more time to devote, he began studying for a master’s in AI at UGA.

Now, combining the various interests in AI and the arts that he has mastered over the course of his studies, Gibbs and his students are exploring solutions for digital animation—and considering philosophically the repercussions these new creative and assistive technologies could bring about.

The promise of AI in creativity

Gibbs first came to UGA in 2006 as a professor in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences Department of Theatre and Film Studies, where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in 3D animation, motion capture, screen and stage writing, and modern drama, among other things.

It’s not exactly the area of expertise one might immediately associate with artificial intelligence (at least not at the time). His Ph.D. dissertation—“No-thing is more real than nothing: Zen/Chaos Theory in the Dramatic Art of Samuel Beckett”—offered no glimpse of this future work. Nor did his minor in music composition and theory at Princeton in 1987.

If anything, though, Gibbs has personified a shift in the way we view AI and culture today: It is everywhere.

“It was probably the summer of 2022 or so, and I did a video on my YouTube channel,” Gibbs said, referring to his alternate online personality, “Dr. Know-It-All,”which has just over 70,000 subscribers and garners thousands of views for each new video. “I made a prediction that the golden age of AI was over, and it would take another 5-10 years to catch back up.

“I was way off.”

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Image: UGA Associate Professor John Gibbs

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