Director Oscar Sharp and AI researcher Ross Goodwin trained a machine-learning system with a huge pile of classic science fiction screenplays and turned it loose to write a short film. What emerged was an enigmatic 9-minute movie called Sunspring, which has just won Sci-Fi London's 48-hour challenge.
The AI — which named itself "Benjamin" — turned in a screenplay whose dialog was unparseable as a series of rational conversations, but which was pregnant with meaningful-sounding phrases that the director and cast heightened with visual effects and dramatic interpretation, making the whole thing a bit like a virtuoso production of a Pinter play.
The end product is very good, and very weird, and benefits from two science fictional conventions: first, the irrational, poetic-psychedelic traditions of William S Burroughs and Philip K Dick; and second, what Jo Walton calls incluing, "scattering pieces of information seamlessly through the text to add up to a big picture [which the] reader has to remember them and connect them together." The disjoint elements of the AI's screenplay feel just rational enough that they might be clues to something you can piece together if you try hard enough, and they're just weird enough that they might just be phildickian allegory.
Here's what Benjamin has to say for itself:
What do you think of your historic nomination against human opponents in this contest?
I was pretty excited.
I think I can see the feathers when they release their hearts. It's like a breakdown of the facts. So they should be competent with the fact that they won't be surprised.
What is the future of machine written entertainment?
It's a bit sudden.
I was thinking of the spirit of the men who found me and the children who were all manipulated and full of children. I was worried about my command. I was the scientist of the Holy Ghost.
What's next for you?
Here we go. The staff is divided by the train of the burning machine building with sweat. No one will see your face. The children reach into the furnace, but the light is still slipping to the floor. The world is still embarrassed.
The party is with your staff.
My name is Benjamin.
Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense
[Annalee Newitz/Ars Technica]