Friday, June 10, 2016

Computer Writes Sci-Fi Flick

Sunspring is a short sci-fi flick that was scripted by an AI that, apparently, calls itself Benjamin. The story is on Ars Technica. I was pointed there by Tyler Cowen.

I watched three minutes out of nine before embedding it above. The first half of those 3 minutes was meta: credits and a bit of how-we-did-it. From the story:
Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, a type of AI that is often used for text recognition. To train Benjamin, Goodwin fed the AI with a corpus of dozens of sci-fi screenplays he found online—mostly movies from the 1980s and 90s. Benjamin dissected them down to the letter, learning to predict which letters tended to follow each other and from there which words and phrases tended to occur together. The advantage of an LSTM algorithm over a Markov chain is that it can sample much longer strings of letters, so it's better at predicting whole paragraphs rather than just a few words. It's also good at generating original sentences rather than cutting and pasting sentences together from its corpus. Over time, Benjamin learned to imitate the structure of a screenplay, producing stage directions and well-formatted character lines. The only thing the AI couldn't learn were proper names, because they aren't used like other words and are very unpredictable. So Goodwin changed all character names in Benjamin's screenplay corpus to single letters. That's why the characters in Sunspring are named H, H2, and C. In fact, the original screenplay had two separate characters named H, which confused the humans so much that Sharp dubbed one of them H2 just for clarity.
And this:
For Sharp, the most interesting part of the Benjamin experiment has been learning about patterns in science fiction storytelling. Benjamin's writing sounds original, even kooky, but it's still based on patterns he's discovered in what humans write. Sharp likes to call the results the "average version" of everything the AI looked at. Certain patterns kept coming up again and again. "There's an interesting recurring pattern in Sunspring where characters say, 'No I don’t know what that is. I’m not sure,'" said Goodwin. "They're questioning the environment, questioning what’s in front of them. There's a pattern in sci-fi movies of characters trying to understand the environment." Sharp added that this process has changed his perspective on writing. He keeps catching himself having Benjamin-like moments while working: "I just finished a sci-fi screenplay, and it’s really interesting coming off this experience with Benjamin, thinking I have to have somebody say 'What the hell is going on?' Every time I use his tropes I think, oh of course. This is what sci-fi is about." Sharp's next project will be directing a movie called Randle Is Benign, about a computer scientist who creates the first superintelligent computer in 1981. "It's uncanny how much parts of the screenplay echo the experience of working with Benjamin," he said.

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