Maybe there’s hope for humans, after all. Inspired (or challenged) by AlphaGo’s recent crushing victory over flesh-and-blood board game champs, a group of filmmakers and a technologist created “Benjamin” to see if machine supremacy extends to the arts, too. In the group’s own words, Benjamin is “a system-on-chip (SOC) computer with a graphics processing unit (GPU), running a ‘long short term memory’ (LSTM) recurrent neural network (RNN).” That is, an A.I. similar to your smartphone’s auto-correct.
If Benjamin were fed dozens of sci-fi screenplays, from Ghosbusters to Gremlins and Gattaca, and given a few basic conditions on props and dialog, could he script a compelling short? The short answer is… no. However, the filmmakers were able to convince Silicon Valley‘s Thomas Middleditch to star in a filming of this script, “Sunspring.” He does the best he can with what Benjamin has wrought, and the results are fascinating, if highly difficult to describe. Watch on.
An app that writes screenplays sounds like just the sort of scheme the Pied Piper start-up team would explore after running out of seed money on Silicon Valley. Though, if you put aside any A.I. weirdness, “Sunspring” seriously plays like a theater school exercise where students must learn how to emote in a scene, regardless of what the dialog reads. Like, the song Benjamin composed for the climax (?) is total gibberish, too, but damn if we didn’t feel something. We don’t know what that something is, but we definitely felt it.
Men and machines have been battling over “who can do it better” since the days of John Henry and the Steam Shovel. If mankind has to accept that computers can play Go better, now, at least we can take comfort knowing that no soulless program can grasp the nuances of drama or grammar for now.
Stare into the abyss long enough, and that abyss stares back at you. So, do you see any subtext or symbolism in “Sunspring” we might’ve missed? Offer theories in the talkback.
Featured Image Credit: Ars Technica