Just under a year ago, I wrote about algorithms producing producing rap lyrics and said, “Perhaps the next project will be an algorithm that produces films.” In fact, that project has arrived, and its name is Benjamin (formerly known as Jetson).
Benjamin is the self-chosen name of “the world’s first automated screenwriter,” according to its own Facebook page. Benjamin’s site gives a slightly longer description of the screenwriter as “a self-improving LSTM RNN [Long short-term memory recurrent neural network] machine intelligence trained on human screenplays.”
Benjamin already has written a film entitled “Sunspring” with some prompting from Ross Goodwin, “creative technologist, artist, hacker, data scientist,” and the filmmaker Oscar Sharp. To qualify for the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge, the entire film was made from start to finish in just 48 hours with three human actors playing the roles.
It is available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube. As the writer Neil Gaiman tweeted, “Watch a short SF film gloriously fail the Turing Test.”
The lack of coherence between and within lines gives the film and script (posted here) is reminiscent of the dada movement. At one point, the main character (identified as H) declares: “It’s a damn thing scared to say. Nothing is going to be a thing but I was the one that got on this rock with a child and then I left the other two.” That is followed by the stage direction, “He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor.”
Benjamin, however, is not deliberately channeling Hugo Ball or Tristan Tzara. He is merely composing what the algorithms dictate. As Goodwin explained in an emailed response to my question about the possibility of influencing the outcome of the algorithm:
The type of algorithm I used, an LSTM recurrent neural network, can be influenced in certain ways -- for example, by selecting only science fiction materials for the corpus, the output will have a science fiction feel to it. However, the way it generates text is by referencing a statistical model with millions of parameters and predicting which letter comes next over and over again. That process doesn't lend itself to control over story structure or aspects like number of characters, etc.
Algorithms based on the model fed into Benjamin were also used for "Home on the Land," the song sung at the end of the film. Benjamin did not write the music, though. That was done by humans from Tiger and Man. The combination is not bad, though human creativity has to get at least some of the credit.
Whether or not one says the same for the film as a whole really depends on one’s expectations. Certainly, I wouldn’t have sat through all nine-plus minutes to watch the film if it were just a not-ready-for-primetime human production. But because it is an AI production, I was curious to see the results and had much more tolerance for its shortcomings. If it’s viewed as a work-in-progress, it could be interesting to watch for improvements down the road as algorithms are adjusted to produce something closer to what we expect from human writers.
Goodman does believe that AI will eventually be able to achieve the level of coherence one expects from human-produced films. However, he does not consider that to signal the end of human creativity. He contends that we should be thinking about “how we intend to use such technology well in advance of its arrival.” We should be considering in what way that technology can “augment our creativity” rather than rendering it irrelevant.
In light of that assessment, perhaps Benjamin’s song is what best encapsulates the possibility for bringing together human and machine intelligence to produce something that makes the best of both. What do you think?
And speaking of computers writing nonsensical stuff, an online "news" site take words from National Public Radio (NPR) stories and links them together for the amusing and improbable results: don't-play-with-your-news.com
The other day with my cell phone in my pocket the text message autocorrect wrote a whole paragraph reply to a friend that was nonsensical but grammatically correct. Luckily it didn't send as I would have had trouble explaining it.
I would love to see an algorithm that could detect plot holes. While we may be a long way from having a computer write a whole script it might be useful for those moments of writer's block.
From what I understand there are computer generated pop stars in Japan, the music, the voices the persona, everything is artificial aside from the writing. In short it's the opposite of this film, humans write the songs and the scripts then everything is generated to fit that vision. It's not automated at all but I also hear that Google is doing some music creation now based on formulas from popular music genres. Maybe that isn't far off in the future.
Computer generated music has been going on for decades and has been successful according to some critics. Films would seem to have many more elements and variations possible so it would make sense we're not quite there yet.
What a glorious day it will be when the Academy Award for Best Original Score is awarded to ... Watson ...
It does seem the film making is still very much a work in progress. Computer generated music has been going on for decades and has been successful according to some critics. Films would seem to have many more elements and variations possible so it would make sense we're not quite there yet.
Ariella writes (regarding computer music) "I haven't heard of that before."
Here's a YouTube video of a couple of musicians performing a piece reportedly composed entirely by a computer. Seems to incorporate some musical rules; if you like to listen to compositions that adhere to the prescribed rules, you might find this enchanting. Otherwise ...
@SaneIT that would be a much more complex project. The script deals with text only and recognizing patterns from the input. To get a link between word and action would require a level of intelligence that doesn't just seek to replicate pattens but that understands what language means in human terms. I get the impression that when Benjamin juxtaposes standing and sitting, it doesn't mean something particular but simply offering a pattern of action words that it has seen before, possibly in script stage directios in which the two actions were really intended for 2 different people.
@Ariella I saw the example but I think this might be more of a language issue than a direction issue. The word standing has a few uses and the AI may have meant he was stationary in space sitting on the floor referencing his position, status, or permanence. We as humans can misinterpret things just as easily as machines can and we tend to make assumptions that machines don't. This is why I think an AI produced movie would be more telling than the script since it would show us exactly what it meant. Maybe the movie making AI needs to produce a script that goes with the movie so that we can see how it thinks not just what it can produce.