The Britbot was an art commission for Sky Arts by Libby Heaney for part of their Arts 50 programme. The project ran between 2017 and 2019.

Britbot is an online voice activated chatbot that asks open-ended questions about ‘Britishness’ following topics in the UK citizenship test and corresponding book Life in the United Kingdom. Britbot was learning from all the people it spoke to between June 2018 and August 2019 and overtime learnt from the people it interacted with. It's aim was to gather and reflect a diverse range of views and insights about what ‘Britishness’ might mean today. When someone speaks to Britbot, it uses machine learning techniques to sift through hundreds of articles and texts as well as all the statements people have said to the bot, to determine an answer it thinks is best. The often surreal nature of responses encouraged users to reassess topics related to Britishness at a critical moment in British history.

A book B-X has also been published based on a selection of interactions with users in 2018.

How do I interact with Britbot

Britbot has now been archived, which means it has stopped learning and is frozen in its August 2019 form. You can still interact with this version and explore how it interpreted Britishness. You will need Chrome web browser to interact with Britbot using speech. You can interact with Britbot in any browser through typing.

What happens to my data?

Britbot no longer stores any data from your conversations. Britbot does not save any video, audio or text from your conversations.

If you spoke to Britbot before August 2019 and/or wish to understand our previous data policy please visit our data page.

Britbot has said something that does not quite make sense.

Britbot loves to talk, but sometimes it loses its way (don’t we all!). Since Britbot is computer programme, sometimes it may say something that sounds odd or even offensive. Like any new born, it needs educating. So feel free to correct it and tell it what you think.

Britbot was programmed to have no identity or personality, rather it is a reflection of all the people who have spoken to it between June 2018 and August 2019. The conversation you have with Britbot in some ways mirrors what you are saying to it. If you want a more in depth discussion, feel free to offer more information.

How does The Britbot work?

Britbot uses advanced techniques in natural language processing for speech-to-text voice recognition and text-to-speech voice synthesis. This allows the bot to hear and speak to the users. For dialog management, the system uses a combination of rule-based and purely-generative based methods. There is a defined conversational structure, but the system is able to improvise inside of the defined constraints. The language modelling is done using deep neural networks, and the response generation uses Google’s Universal Sentence Encoder.

Artist, Libby Heaney

Libby Heaney is an artist, researcher and lecturer with a background in quantum physics. Her practice brings together technology, literature, pop culture and science to undo seemingly fixed identity categories such as Britishness. She is particularly interested in making work with emerging technologies, such as machine learning, quantum computing and virtual reality, to critically understand how they impact on social or political systems.

Libby has degrees from Imperial College London, the University of Leeds and Central St. Martins, is a resident of Somerset House Studios and is a research tutor at the Royal College of Art. Libby has shown at a variety of cultural institutions and galleries including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Lowry, Science Gallery Dublin, Sonar+D (with the British Council), Tate Modern and the V&A. Her previous works include Euro(re)vision, Time’s Tattarrattat and Quantum Breathing.


Concept, conversation design, visual artwork: Libby Heaney

Britbot programme: Kory Mathewson

Original website: Keyfer Mathewson.

Legacy website: James McMeeken.

Production Assistance: Jesse Cahn-Thompson

Social Media: Kris Throboe