Watch Sunspring, the Sci-Fi Film Written with Artificial Intelligence, Starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)

This past spring the streets of Seoul, where I live, felt more like a sci-fi movie than usu­al. Large over­head video screens kept the pop­u­la­tion post­ed on the progress of a series of Go match­es between 18-time world cham­pi­on Lee Sedol and Alpha­Go, a piece of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence devel­oped by Google Deep­Mind. Com­put­ers have long had a spe­cial dif­fi­cul­ty mas­ter­ing that tra­di­tion­al game, but before long it became clear that this com­put­er would win most of the match­es, despite the human’s for­mer­ly unshak­able pre­dic­tion of the oppo­site out­come. What would arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence achieve next?

“In the wake of Google’s AI Go vic­to­ry, film­mak­er Oscar Sharp turned to his tech­nol­o­gist col­lab­o­ra­tor Ross Good­win to build a machine that could write screen­plays,” say the video notes for the new short film Sun­spring. They assem­bled hun­dreds of sci­ence fic­tion scripts, most­ly from 1980s and 90s tele­vi­sion shows and movies, and fed them into the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, which even­tu­al­ly named itself Ben­jamin, so as to teach it the mechan­ics of screen­writ­ing. “Build­ing a team includ­ing Thomas Mid­dled­itch, star of HBO’s Sil­i­con Val­ley, they gave them­selves 48 hours to shoot and edit what­ev­er Ben­jamin decid­ed to write.” Ben­jamin decid­ed to write eight min­utes’ worth of its own inter­pre­ta­tion of the tropes of a cer­tain kind of sci-fi enter­tain­ment.

It did come up with, fair to say, some dia­logue a human screen­writer could only dream of — that is to say, words with the kind of uncon­scious log­ic that, deliv­ered by liv­ing, breath­ing actors in phys­i­cal spaces, take on weight, humor, and even an askew kind of mean­ing. (Mid­dled­itch’s despon­dent “I am not a bright light” will sure­ly stay quotable for years to come.) You can learn more about the mak­ing of Sun­spring from this Ars Tech­ni­ca piece by Annalee Newitz. Ben­jamin won’t put any sci-fi scribes out of work just yet, haunt­ing though it may seem for a pro­gram to have come so close to doing some­thing clas­si­cal­ly human as telling a sto­ry about the future. But remem­ber, peo­ple had to write that pro­gram, just as peo­ple had to cre­ate Alpha­Go; every achieve­ment of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence thus also counts as an achieve­ment of human­i­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Soci­ety of Mind: A Free Online Course from Mar­vin Min­sky, Pio­neer of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Two Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Chat­bots Talk to Each Oth­er & Get Into a Deep Philo­soph­i­cal Con­ver­sa­tion

Noam Chom­sky Explains Where Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Went Wrong

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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