2016: The year AI got creative
Over the past 12 months we've witnessed an explosion of AI generated art from machines composing pop music to writing film screenplays. Here is a run-down of some of the most interesting, and amusing, developments in computer generated creativity.
The AI sitcom
2016 kicked off with a bang of surreal absurdity that rivaled the best of David Lynch in sheer weirdness. Software developer and cartoonist Andy Herd wondered what would happen if he tasked an AI with writing new episodes of the TV sitcom, Friends. Utilizing Google's open source machine-learning toolbox, TensorFlow , Herd fed the system every script from nine seasons of the show. The results mostly bordered on gibberish but Herd managed to isolate several "scenes" that came close to a sublime form of inanity by placing Chandler "in a muffin" and having Monica randomly yell out, "Chicken Bob!" for some unknown yet oddly perfect reason.
The AI movie trailer
What started as a promotional gimmick ultimately turned into a fascinating commentary on the generic nature of modern movie trailers when 20th Century Fox recruited IBM's Watson supercomputer to generate a trailer for it's AI influenced thriller Morgan . The IBM researchers trained Watson by feeding it over 1000 trailers helping it learn the general tone and pace of a successful trailer. Then Watson processed the entire feature length film and selected six minutes of footage that it determined were the prime moments a film trailer should focus on.
The final result was intriguing in comparison to the trailer originally produced as the AI generated piece seemed to concentrate on mood and atmosphere in a way that the commercially generated, and more conventionally plot-heavy, trailer did not. In our opinion this was one of the most successful AI generated projects of 2016 avoiding the frustrating modern trend of movie trailers giving away most of the plot of the film.
The AI horror film
In August a Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund the production of the world's first feature film co-written by an AI Impossible Things was created by a mathematician who generated a neural network that pulled apart thousands of successful horror movies and weighted that data against each film's box office success. The system then generated a premise and plot synopsis upon which a human writer then constructed a screenplay from. The producers released a plot synopsis and AI generated trailer to show off their ideas.
The resulting trailer played to us like a compendium of every horror movie cliche you could think of, but the crowdfunding campaign was ultimately successful. The team has now partnered with two serious Hollywood production companies and the film is set to shoot in early 2017, so by the end of next year we should be able to take a look at the first ever computer conceived feature film.
The A.I. Short Film
2016 saw the emergence of an odd short film entitled Sunspring which was quickly revealed to have been entirely AI constructed. Filmmaker Oscar Sharp and AI researcher Ross Goodwin appropriated a general text-recognition AI algorithm and then fed the system scores of science fiction screenplays from the 1980s and 1990s. Using films like Ghostbusters, Bladerunner and every episode of TV's The X-Files as inspiration, the machine learned how to communicate in screenplay format and composed the screenplay for the short film.
The filmmaker shot the film exactly as the AI had written resulting in a final product that was stiflingly incoherent with literally no clear structure. The process did reveal several fascinating recurring cinematic tropes that the AI seemingly recognized across numerous screenplays. Characters are constantly exclaiming confusion, with "I don't know what you're talking about," becoming a chorus-like refrain, while the main character shouts "it's not a dream" recalling countless reality-bending sci-fi stories.