Every text message or email you’ve ever typed into your smartphone has been read and analyzed by AI software. This is how our devices have become so creepily good at auto-completing (and sometimes, auto-butchering) our texts and emails. But what would happen if that same AI turned its focus away from our personal messages, and instead studied movie and TV scripts? What would it learn, and what would it try to create?
One answer is Sunspring, a nine-minute film scripted entirely by an AI computer. The film’s director, Oscar Sharp, alongside NYU technologist Ross Goodwin, added the final touches of human acting to the computer-generated script. How did the whole process work? The AI, which named itself Benjamin (yes, really), was fed inspiration in the form of hundreds of movie and TV scripts — including sci-fi greats like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Alien, The X-Files and, just for good measure, a dash of romance and comedy flicks like Silver Linings Playbook and Airplane 2. The computer then stitched together its own interpretation of the scripts, using analyzed data on word flow, dialogue structure and common themes.
The script turned out to be wildly incoherent and bizarre, and at times totally hilarious. The film’s star, a moody and existentially minded man named H played by Thomas Middleditch of HBO’s Silicon Valley, is stuck in the middle of what seems to be a love triangle on a spaceship with the film’s other two characters, H2 and C (Benjamin wasn’t taught how to use proper names, so instead “he” came up with letters and numbers).
Middleditch’s character barfs up a human eyeball for no apparent reason. C announces he’s going to the “Skull” just before assaulting his own face with the bright-green light of some kind of brain scanner. A black hole opens up on the floor and forms a portal, leading to a man lying mysteriously dead on the edge of a stairway. All things born in the strange mind of Benjamin, the AI.
So, the film is weird. Really weird. Yet it remains fascinating to watch, for no other reason than the fact it was written by a computer. Let’s just hope Benjamin doesn’t get the nod to write the next summer blockbuster.