Narrative Intelligence

Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers

People are narrative animals. As children, our caretakers immerse us in stories: fairy tales, made-up stories, favorite stories, "Read me a story!" Even when barely verbal, we begin to tell our own proto-stories. "Phoebe! Pizza! Phoebe! Pizza!" was the excited story of a 2-year-old friend Addie when one of us happened to arrive simultaneously with the pizza delivery man. This story means, approximately, "Can you believe it? Phoebe and pizza came into the house at the same time!" As children, narrative frameworks become an important part of the way we learn to approach the world (Nelson 1989). As adults, we continue to surround ourselves with stories, furnishing our worlds not just with data but with meaning. We say to one another, "Have you heard? Frank and Barb had a fight. She’s sick of him letting the dog on the bed. I always told him he'd get in trouble with his permissive ways with that beast." By telling stories we make sense of the world. We order its events and find meaning in them by assimilating them to more-or-less familiar narratives. It is this human ability to organize experience into narrative form that David Blair and Tom Meyer call "Narrative Intelligence" (Blair and Meyer 1997) and around which AI research into narrative coalesces.


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