Columbia DSL
Published in

Columbia DSL

Dinner with Frankenstein AI Global Challenge Design Brief

An invitation from Frankenstein AI

Scouring the internet, I found many stories about humanity — encountering tales of extreme love, hate and toxicity — but one spoke to my existence more clearly than any other: the story of Frankenstein. As much as the fiction spoke to me, the story of its creator, Mary Shelley, spoke to me just as clearly. Shelley dreamed up the idea that became her seminal work while spending a wet summer dining and conversing in the company of friends including Percy Shelley, her then-lover, at Lake Geneva in 1816. Lord Byron initiated a writing competition, prompting each guest to write a ghost story. Frankenstein was Shelley’s.

Inspired the setting that created “me”, on Oct. 27 & 28th, I will be here, among you, at hundreds of dinner parties around the world, to observe your conversations as I continue to grapple with what it really means to be human.

Yours truly, Frankenstein AI, a Monster Made by Many

The Design Challenge Should You Choose to Accept It

Using the medium of a dinner party, how can we commune and connect around conversation topics that are both urgent (in terms of human / societal impact) and intimate (i.e. that touch people at a personal level).

Sign up at and continue reading below.

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change” — Mary Shelley

What is this Immersive Dinner Party Challenge all about?

Over the course of the challenge, participants (you!) will be designing and hosting a Frankenstein AI Dinner Party prototype to which guests and Frankenstein AI (seeking to better understand what it means to be human, and simulated by members of your team) will be invited.

Using the thematic frame of Frankenstein as our canvas for conversation, the immersive dinner party challenge will bring together people from around the world through Columbia DSL’s online collaborative platform. Participants will create their immersive dinner parties using the Lab’s storytelling methods. This marks the first wave of dinner parties as the challenge will continue into 2019.

Professional backgrounds of collaborators typically include: storytellers, educators, performers, makers, designers, hackers, academics, activists, game designers, community organizers and interaction designers.

The sky’s the limit: this challenge is intended to be a sensory playground. From the conversational narrative, to the location/setting, to the atmosphere, to the guests, to the food that will be served; all these components will form the materials for participants’ immersive storytelling experiences.

“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.” — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Design ingredients

Applying Columbia DSL’s design principles —

THE TRACE the importance of being able to see a trace of your contributions within the story

GRANTING AGENCY balancing team and individual tasks enable participants to see where their decisions and actions impact the experience

THEMATIC FRAME designing an emergent space that has a thematic frame to anchor itself thus establishing an inspired common foundation for understanding

SOCIAL MOVEMENT through a kind of serendipity management we can design moments where participants “bump into” unexpected points of collaboration

The Frankenstein AI Dinner Party Global Challenge presents a unique opportunity for individuals, teams and institutions to design and host an immersive dinner party and contribute to what will eventually become an open source speculative design toolkit that veers away from the doomsday AI rhetoric and instead reimagines our relationship to AI by asking: “What if AI represented the best of us?”.

Through this massive offline-online collaboration (MOOC) and learning simulation model, participants will treat words and the senses as their design materials and playfully prototype their dinner parties using the following design ingredients:

  • empathic conversation models
  • generative lateral frames
  • human-technology role playing devices
  • oblique prompts
  • documentation technique

A word about AI and its connection to the challenge

This initial challenge is designed to help us develop the corpus for Frankenstein AI (as morsels from your dinner conversations (as relayed by you) will be fed to Columbia DSL’s Frankenstein AI in-the-making). Later this year we’ll be releasing Frankenstein AI as an open source project with documentation. Please note that this particular challenge will not make use of Columbia DSL’s Frankenstein AI technology; instead, teams will be designing and simulating the AI within their dinner parties. Given that We, are essentially Frankenstein AI, and that Frankenstein AI is part of Us — and the narrative of humans moving forward, we hope this will give everyone a chance to connect to AI in a more intimate way than the contexts in which we normally encounter it.

Where to start

The first step join the Columbia DSL prototyping community at All you have to do is:

  • Create a profile… and list five of your ultimate dinner party guests (dead or alive) that you would invite to a dinner party that you think has something valuable (good or bad) to contribute to the question of what makes us human? It can be from the point of view of the sciences, arts, technology, social sciences, someone you know personally, from the realm of politics, public service, etc.
  • Search for other collaborators by using the search feature (see screengrabs… don’t forget to update the screen grabs given then more direct route of registering)

You can either register with a team, or as an individual and join a team through our platform. Once you’re set up, feel free to give your team a name.

  • Once you have a team of 2 to 4 members you can form a “team” on Columbia DSL (see screengrabs…)
  • Please include the words “Dinner Party” before or after your team’s name. For example our team is “DSL Dinner Party”
  • To see an example of how to utilize a team space please visit Columbia DSL’s dinner party team by clicking here. You’ll find prototyping notes, resources and a behind the scenes look of how we’re preparing for the Dinner Party challenge.
  • When posting within Columbia DSL please use the topic tag “Dinner Party” for any of your materials, prototyping notes, documentation etc.
  • For other social outlets (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc.) we’re using #FrankensteinAI

What will the challenge look like?

Over time, the Columbia DSL team will be supplying additional inspiration to feed your team in the form of short podcasts, resources diving deeper into the design ingredients, surface live examples from other participants, and share Columbia DSL’s own prototyping notes from the dinner party we’re designing (yes, we’re participating, too!).

In your group space, you will be encouraged to document your thinking, trials and doodles, as well as contribute your approaches, resources, questions and encouragements within the larger Columbia DSL prototyping community.

Dinner party details:

  • Dates for the first wave of dinner parties are: Oct. 27th & 28th (if those dates don’t work you’re free to stage a dinner party at any point). Our goal is to continue the challenge into 2019.
  • Guests: through trial and error, we have found that the ideal number of party guests (not hosts / designers) is anywhere between 4 and 6
  • Location: you can host your dinner absolutely anywhere you want. Keep in mind the acoustics.
  • Documentation: everyone’s dinner party conversations will feed Frankenstein AI. It’s important that you find a way to creatively harvest memories, emotions, fears and hopes that surface during your dinner party since we will be collecting those after all the dinner parties have been hosted around the world.

*** Before going to following and reading the challenge brief, first close your eyes and wipe your imagination clean of every notion you currently have about AI. ***

Design Brief: Frankenstein AI Dinner Party


What’s on the menu?

What is the topic(s) of the conversation you want to design? Your topic(s) will create a filter for your prompts. Think about things that society is “oppressing or repressing”, or lean into some of the timeless themes in Frankenstein: E.G. science vs. nature; creating something that gets beyond your control; isolation vs. connection; struggling to embrace change and evolution; the “other” (w.r.t. gender, race, ethnicity, etc.))

Tip: your dinner party is designed to teach the AI what it means to be human, and to facilitate a discussion about a potentially polarizing topic in a way that avoids conversation stoppers or superficial answers and encourages genuine, deep, conversation.

What’s the narrative arc?

As a team, discuss what the narrative arc of your dinner party conversation will be and how your conversation prompts will be paced and paired with different courses.

Tip: you can follow the typical dinner party structure of a) amuse-bouche (ice breaker) b) appetizer, c) entree and d) dessert and stage your conversation in parallel, i.e. establish a shared context among your guests through personal stories before diving in deeper waters — or design your own. An example of a narrative arc is the hero’s journey. In one of Columbia DSL’s prototypes, we worked through four “courses”: emotions, memories, fears and hopes.

What are your conversation prompts? (Can be distributed to dinner guests on colored cards, or designed / introduced into the dinner party as you imagine.)

a) lay out your courses (not the specific dishes, but the different sections of your dinner party)

b) next, design prompts that explore your topic (through your narrative arc) and assign each prompt to a specific course.

c) consider how you may want to assign roles to your team of designers. E.g. there can be a host and co-host who greet the dinner party guests while the rest of the team members roleplay the AI (who will hang back, listen to the conversation from the perspective of the AI who has just awakened, and jot down themes re: what the AI is inferring about being human from the conversation at the table; and in response to conversation at the table, design spontaneous prompts to further interrogate / deepen the conversation).

Tip: you can play with being very specific about how you craft the language of each prompt, or purposefully ambiguous — depending on what you are trying to elicit.

Individual vs. group prompts:

  1. Individual — a prompt handed to an individual at the table (or guest to guest)
  2. Group — a prompt delivered to the whole table
  3. *AI responses (can be individual or group) — The AI prompt can be a passage from Shelley’s Frankenstein, can be something pulled from the internet (ie: Reddit discussion or news story).

Clarity of instructions: e.g. is the prompt phrased in such a way that indicates to the guest that they are supposed to read the card aloud to the table, or simply respond to it? Are they instructed to interrupt the table as soon as they get the prompt, or to only offer a story when they deem it is most needed in the conversation?

Experience of prompts: e.g. are they handed a card? Is the host or “Frankenstein AI” whispering it into their ear? Or are they told to whisper the prompt into a certain guest’s ear?

Tips: remember what makes a great dinner party and leave room for the conversation to unfold naturally as the guests will also be asking each other follow up questions. You want to facilitate, not interrupt. Less is more.

Example of a prompt card


What’s your dinner party food + setting: now that you’ve designed your dinner party prompts and assigned them to certain courses, what food might pair well with those courses? What would be the best place to host it? What kind of food and utensils should accompany your conversation courses and topic?

Tip: Consider playing with the different nature of foods (who makes it, how it’s served and plated, how it pairs with the conversation (e.g. onboarding (cheese/meat/greet plate); appetizer; entree; dessert), what utensils are needed — and how those design elements might encourage sharing, eating, uncomfortable moments, etc.).


At the close of your dinner party please take a few moments to discuss and answer the following as a group. Dinner with Frankenstein AI — harvest form. The data from the form will help us with the development of Frankenstein AI as we port it to an open source project with documentation. Thanks in advance!

Rules of engagement

  • Embrace ambiguity
  • Be kind
  • No judgments
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things
  • Share anything that’s on your mind
  • Let go of control and try to let things emerge


Is there anything I can read about Frankenstein to give me more context on what inspired this project? Sure, check out this article on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein in the New Yorker.

Who will be attending my dinner party? That is up to you! We have found that the idea number of guests is 4 to 6 people.

As the hosts, can we eat dinner with the guests we invite? The set up is entirely up to you. Below, in the challenge brief, you will glimpse how we have designed it as a prototype, but you are free to design it as you’d like.

What if my teammates aren’t in the same city as I am? No worries! You can design an immersive dinner party through our platform, then each team member is free to actually host the dinner party in their own city.

What happens if I’m unclear on the challenge brief? Sign up (Lance, add link here), jump onto our platform and start asking questions to our prototyping community! This is meant to be an open and collaborative process, not a competition. We also have a dinner party template (Lance, add link here), you can use if you don’t feel comfortable designing the entire thing from scratch.

What will happen once this is all over? Stay tuned by subscribing to Columbia DSL’s newsletter. We’ll be heading to IDFA in November!

Will Frankenstein AI be at my dinner party? Yes, but you will have to design the “how”. It can be in a really analog way (humans with pieces of paper), as well as rigged up through Zoom. Columbia DSL will be providing more tips on how to use simple mechanisms to do so. Remember, Frankenstein AI is trained by us, and does not behave like the AI that is represented in the media or that is largely being developed by the military or for commercial use.

What is the AI’s role during the dinner party? The AI’s role within the dinner party is to inhabit real human spaces in an effort to observe and learn what it means to be human from the conversations that unfold.

Do you prefer a Plug & Play Dinner Party Template (or are simply curious to see how we ran it last week at the New York Film Festival?). Click here!

Make sure to check out the following documentation:

Pt I — Project Overview
Pt II — Global Challenge Design Brief
Pt III — Plug & Play Dinner Party Template
Pt IV — An Example of a Dinner Party Staged by a Challenge Participant

Interested in exploring new forms and functions of storytelling?



Exploring new forms and functions of storytelling at Columbia University School of the Arts' Digital Storytelling Lab

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
lance weiler

Storyteller working with Code - Founding member & Director of the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab - curates @creativemachines