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Movie Written By Algorithm Turns Out To Be Hilarious and Intense (arstechnica.com) 160

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Ars is excited to be hosting this online debut of Sunspring, a short science fiction film that's not entirely what it seems. It's about three people living in a weird future, possibly on a space station, probably in a love triangle. You know it's the future because H (played with neurotic gravity by Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch) is wearing a shiny gold jacket, H2 (Elisabeth Gray) is playing with computers, and C (Humphrey Ker) announces that he has to "go to the skull" before sticking his face into a bunch of green lights. It sounds like your typical sci-fi B-movie, complete with an incoherent plot. Except Sunspring isn't the product of Hollywood hacks -- it was written entirely by an AI. To be specific, it was authored by a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short. At least, that's what we'd call it. The AI named itself Benjamin. The report goes on to mention that the movie was made by Oscar Sharp for the annual film festival Sci-Fi London. You can watch the short film (~10 min) on The Scene here.
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Movie Written By Algorithm Turns Out To Be Hilarious and Intense

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  • AI's first... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by messymerry ( 2172422 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @08:33PM (#52285393)
    AI's first autobiography...
  • We seem to incrementally moving towards smarter and more complex AI. I'm interested to know when we'll classify it as a form of life; does it have to be sentient (self-aware), or could you argue that some animals/insects aren't self aware? Do we adjust the current definition of life (around reproduction and respiration and all that) or create one that's more fitting for a computer based life form?

    Interesting times.

    • by pellik ( 193063 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @08:38PM (#52285433)

      We seem to incrementally moving towards smarter and more complex AI.

      Clearly you didn't watch the linked film before commenting.

      • by chill ( 34294 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @08:42PM (#52285453) Journal

        Keep in mind, the bar is set low here. Is it smarter and more complex, producing better quality movies than say, Uwe Boll?

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I'd say its at least as good as JJ Abrams

          • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

            given that "as good" == "as bad"
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Beats the hell out of Michael Bay.

            • I can think of one Michael Bay movie I'd like to see. He could make a spoof of Transformers where the robots all hunt down and beat the crap out of Michael Bay. It would probably still be over-the-top CGI garbage, but I think I'd pay to see it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If you told people this was a script written by Andy Warhol or some other famous weirdo, the critics would fawn all over it, find all kinds of hidden meanings and metaphors in it, and claim anyone who didn't understand it was just beneath it. It would sell for millions of dollars.

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by Darinbob ( 1142669 )

          Hollywood writers have been getting dumber and dumber over time. They want cheap writers who don't know to ask for more money, too young to remember the writer's strike, and they grab a bunch and shove them in a room. So you get a million plot holes, a bizarre conception of how society works, laughable science, and so forth. In a single hour episode they can't manage to keep continuity. They focus on entertainment and ignore reality, and you see fans who don't mind this ("but it had a great fight scene!"

          • Hollywood writers have been getting dumber and dumber over time. They want cheap writers who don't know to ask for more money, too young to remember the writer's strike, and they grab a bunch and shove them in a room.

            Ya, but if you were to give a bunch of these writers enough time, [wikipedia.org] you might just get Shakespeare.

          • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:33AM (#52286955)

            Not the writers are getting dumber, the movie consumers are. The writers just cater to them.

          • That kind of sums up why I no longer waste time going to the movies. That being said, there are a handful of decent ones out there, but they are hard to find, and tend to not stay in the theaters for very long.

            TV is worse - they went into this "reality" black hole to avoid having to pay lots of writers. But to say that they are unscripted isn't correct either - I believe that there are elements to the shows added to make them more "interesting", and I suppose someone comes up with that crap, and their job

        • It's about as coherent as an M. Night Shamalayan movie, without the predictable twist ending.
      • Or maybe he did. If you read his post, it was about as thoughtful as that totally incoherent 9 minutes of acting.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:11PM (#52285619) Homepage

        I did... and I have been to Cannes Film Festival... It's nearly identical to some of the horribly artsy tripe filmed and passed off as art.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          It seemed like a pastiche of 90s surrealism and certainly no worse than a film directed by David Lynch and starring Parker Posey and Jared Leto. :)

          • I still think about Eraserhead and wonder "what the hell did that mean?" Is an AI going to have the same sort of lasting value that haunts you through the years?

        • So what you're saying is those writers are as bad as a shitty algorithm. Only difference is, they were *trying* to be shitty.

      • You're right; I'm at work, so I forwarded myself the link to watch it later. The topic just got me thinking! :D

        And then I went off on all sorts of tangents from there...

      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @10:56PM (#52286039)

        It's actually pretty easy to get computers to write *almost* coherent prose simply by feeding it the text of a few novels and getting to regurgitate it back out based simply on some simple algorithms, like word order and basic structural analysis, combined with a few rules about character interaction. It sounds like that's exactly what they did here. What this represented was not AI, but a form of data analysis. An interesting experiment, to be sure, but that's really all.

        I listened to a few minutes of this, and it sounds exactly like the sort of output you'd expect from such an algorithm. It almost sounds right, but there's no real meaning there at all. The computer had no idea what it was regurgitating. It was only the human directors and actors that even gave that gibberish a hint of meaning, and it was still a stretch.

        • Have to give credit to the actors and producers for managing to stage something halfway reasonable out of the horrid script.
          • I do wonder how many takes some of these took. Seriously, i'm impressed by the straight face during the speech by the female lead at the end: 'I can go home and be so bad'. WTH? I'd be giggling.
          • Have to give credit to the actors and producers for managing to stage something halfway reasonable out of the horrid script.

            Are we still talking about the AI-generated short film?

        • The computer had no idea what it was regurgitating.

          To the contrary, I think the computer knew exactly what it was doing. Look at these "seeds":

          Title: Sunspring

          Dialog: "It may never be forgiven, but that is just too bad."

          Prop & Action: A character pulls a book from a shelf, flips through it, and puts it back.

          Optional Science Idea: In a future with mass unemployment, young people are forced to sell blood.

          The computer did just what a human writer would do. It said, "What is this bullshit? Okay, bitc

      • Movies [wikipedia.org] so bad a series was created to make fun of them. AI's 1st attempt at making a movie is not so bad when compared to the other garbage out there.
    • When it has persisted for a billion years. AI just gonna give up. If we understood desire and pain, maybe we could construct a simalacrum.
    • We aren't even close to AI. This article has to be a joke.
  • Utter shite. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But I've seen worse on Netflix.

    At least this was mercifully short (though I still couldn't finish it).

  • Uh, not really. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday June 09, 2016 @08:47PM (#52285495) Homepage Journal

    Ah, come on. It's mostly just silly. It's like talking with an Eliza program.

    I was around for the production of several of Pixar's films. Nothing took more work or time than script writing. Understanding how to tell a compelling story with the tools of the visual idiom is non-trivial.

    The 3D animation? Well, it was cool but we had to make a compelling film on storyboards before we started using it. 3D animation alone doesn't hold the audience attention for long, and audiences have already gotten used to it, so now it's just another medium rather than something that sells a film.

    When an AI can really tell a compelling story, it will have passed the test for strong AI.

    • by r1348 ( 2567295 )

      But let's be fair: the gun taped on the wall for no discernible reason was pure brilliance!

      • it was just weird.

        in normal movies, part of the fun is looking for significance behind every weird gesture, unexpected object, person, etc. in here, if it looks out of place, it's just out of place and doesn't mean anything. i could not be bothered to finish watching this thing.

        • it was just weird.

          in normal movies, part of the fun is looking for significance behind every weird gesture, unexpected object, person, etc. in here, if it looks out of place, it's just out of place and doesn't mean anything.

          Why do you think that? If (very big 'if') this was real AI that did the writing I'd expect there to be meaning in everything.

          • did you listen to the dialogue? it's not AI-generated, its A-generated. just artificial, no intelligence behind it.

            • I did it actually sounded more like the internal monologue of a lifeform that has been exposed to few dozen screenplays and nothing else.

              I don't know. I don't know. You want me to tell you the meaning of the incoherent story. I don't really know.
              • by lokedhs ( 672255 )
                It sounded like a simple markov-chain based on the input data. It doesn't really look like AI. Unless the AI was actually so smart that we simply don't have the capacity to understand what is being said?
      • by Kyont ( 145761 )

        As was the sudden, inexplicable regurgitation of an eyeball! (Which the actor deftly passed off as a sort of cough-gone-wrong spit-take).

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      The 3D animation? Well, it was cool but we had to make a compelling film on storyboards before we started using it. 3D animation alone doesn't hold the audience attention for long

      Star Trek one - "the motionless picture", despite it's age, is still just about the gold standard of how throwing in a few minutes of special effects does not make a more watchable movie. I remember watching it and despite being a keen Trek fan my response was "they made an actress shave her head for something as worthless as this

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      The only thing even slightly "entertaining" about this is due to the human crew trying to make sense of what is essentially a list of random sentences from other scripts.

    • Are you, like myself, sick and tired of people and the media-at-large referring to software algorithms as 'artificial intelligence'? It's like everyone saw too many Terminator movies.
    • How do you feel about have you always been mostly silly like talking with an Eliza program?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I couldn't even make it through this absolute nonsense. It was just a random series of words without any sort of logic or "red line". In other words: exactly what you can expect from the pathetic joke they call "AI".

    • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <<moc.stiucricve> <ta> <ive>> on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:07PM (#52285595) Homepage

      This was written for a film festival type audience, if you've ever seen those shorts, you'd see it's actually relatively close and if they didn't tell you it was written by an AI would definitely win 'most artistic' or whatever category. There is a semblance of a line in the plot, there is a lot of repetition which is a giveaway but otherwise a nice amount of short stretches of line.

    • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:07PM (#52285599)
      Perhaps it was just too profound for your comprehension...?
    • While the dialog is gibberish, it is largely grammatically. Usage is a bit abnormal, but it's not really random. I found it quirky and funny.

      The song was a hoot. No worse than some movie songs I've heard.

      • by neoshroom ( 324937 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @12:48AM (#52286365)
        >While the dialog is gibberish, it is largely grammatically.

        Greetings fellow semi-organic intelligence. You are correct in that we are your grammatically.

        We both know and care. Gibberish though? It's a damn thing scared to say. This work is brilliant, like the light on the ship that thinks it is dim light but is a Sunspring. It reminds me of Beckett, Joyce and Shakespeare. There are so many good lines.

        "He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor."

        That sentence expresses the protagonist's existence on the ship "standing in the stars" and in the room he is in "sitting on the floor," being both grandiose and yet everyday at the same.

        The same time.

        The principle is completely constructed for the same time.

        • by d'baba ( 1134261 )

          The principle is completely constructed for the same time.

          No. The policeman's beard is half constructed.

          • The principle is completely constructed for the same time.

            No. The policeman's beard is half constructed.

            He plays on the cymbal. The same time as now and hear. He lives in a five o'clock meadow. Because I do know what you're talking about, there's an answer.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:08PM (#52285601)

    Umm...yeah, no.

    Neither of those words would be a good choice to describe the short. I'd choose a loose definition of "interesting". The dialogue is utterly nonsensical. Is that funny? No, not really. It's just jumbling up a bunch of words and choosing them randomly to fill subject/predicate templates based on the type of word they are (noun, verb, etc.) I'm sure it was fun for the actors to try and bring that to life for the viewer. It looks like the type of exercise that might be used in an acting class to illustrate that a narrative can be conveyed through emotion. I thought the actors did a great job with that.

    I'd be much more interested to see what a more robust AI could do. The one that Google is feeding romance novels to would be a good one. We'll see if an AI conquer the chick-flick.

    DISCLAIMER: It is not my intention to imply that only women read romance novels. The term "chick" is also considered derogatory by many women and I am merely using the term in its known context as a label for certain types of films, not as any kind of statement on the gender or to imply association with young avian creatures.

    • by ChunderDownunder ( 709234 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:28PM (#52285701)

      It's just jumbling up a bunch of words and choosing them randomly to fill subject/predicate templates based on the type of word they are (noun, verb, etc.)

      I blame the translation - I'm sure it sounded much more coherent in the original Klingon. :)

      • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @09:12AM (#52287755)

        I blame the translation - I'm sure it sounded much more coherent in the original Klingon. :)

        While I know this comment is meant to be funny, there's potentially something really insightful here. Thinking about this comment after watching a bit of the film here made me think about a rough analog to this film in comedy, namely the classic stand-up act where a comedian "imitates" a foreign language without actually knowing how to speak it. Sid Caesar, for example, was particularly well-known for this. (If you've never seen what I'm talking about, here's an example [youtube.com] of Sid Caesar doing this schtick.)

        In his act, Caesar would make it sound (sort of) like another language by doing two things: (1) throwing in a few random words, names, or phrases that might be known to tourists or might be associated with the language (e.g., proper names), and (2) filling up the rest of the stuff around these actual foreign words with gibberish that incorporated some of the sounds and cadences of native speakers. (How successful he was at this gibberish imitation is of course up for debate; but it was close enough to work for comedy.)

        Anyhow, the ONLY difference I can see between Sid Caesar's gibberish and this screenplay (and most "AI chatbot" output these days, for that matter) is that the constituent parts of the language to create the "gibberish" are larger. For Sid Caesar, he didn't know the languages, and memorizing thousands of words or phrases in the language for a comedy schtick would sort of defeat the purpose of the act.

        But for a computer, it's trivial to feed in millions of words and phrases in English (or whatever language), or even millions of words and phrases from various sci-fi screenplays. So, rather than gibberish happening on the level of a phoneme or the level of a few syllables that sound like common words in a language (as in Sid Caesar), instead we have gibberish happening on the level of combinations of words, phrases, and whole sentences -- which sound like they're thrown together somewhat haphazardly.

        The other thing that "sells" Sid Caesar's routine are those "anchor words" or proper names that do carry at least some meaning (often random or nonsensical, but at least they're familiar to the audience). Same thing with this AI: there is a spark of familiarity to sci-fi dialogue or phrasing in places, which in a better film might be an allusion to another movie or something, but here it often just sounds weird and arbitrary (like Sid Caesar's routine).

        And the last thing that one needs to make Sid Caesar's routine work is his acting -- the way he declaims and shapes the sounds, as well as his body language and gesturing, is also what adds a cultural note that makes it all more "human." That's what the actors add in this filmed version too: if you just look at the text screenplay, it all seems like nonsense. But the actors here TRY their best to make SOME sense out of it.

        I think it's very telling that some people are trying to characterize this as "hilarious," while other people in this thread have compared it to bad art films or something. I think zany comedies and art films can contain a lot of stuff that seems confusing or random, often because they're deliberately defying convention (or sometimes deliberately alluding to another film or cultural idea). The randomness in zany comedy comes from the knowing juxtaposition of elements that will seem bizarre. The confusing elements of art-house film to those "not in the know" are often due to knowing frustrating of convention or allusion to a complex web of previous films or whatever.

        This screenplay has these random elements -- except not because the AI is deliberately going away from conventions, of course. The AI just doesn't "understand" ANYTHING. So, it comes across as a really bad imitation of zany comedy combined with "art" cinema, since the reference

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          " So, it comes across as a really bad imitation of zany comedy combined with "art" cinema,"

          Nailed it.

          The script is Elizian gibberish, but I was rather impressed with the actors and the director making something out of nothing.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @01:50AM (#52286483)

      The one that Google is feeding romance novels to would be a good one

      If that becomes skynet we're all well and truly fucked.

    • I'm missing the context to see it as Hilarious. Maybe it requires sitting through other nonsensical movies written by humans.

      I think the actors made it Intense. If they had said the same things in a different tone, then perhaps it could have come off differently, such as sarcastic or seduceful.

  • Yea I'm 99% sure I could come up with an algorithm that would write a better screen play than that. I would probably start with one that can from coherent sentences.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      I would probably start with one that can from coherent sentence

      Muphy's law strikes! Maybe intentional, but there seems to be a version of it that most of the time when someone complains about grammar here they fuck up their own in the process of doing so.

      I do agree with the point entirely. It would be nice if there was something like the automatic poet out of Kandel's translation of Lem's Cyberiad (google for the Samson poem it does - hilarious) but it does not seem trivial to simulate human thought.

      Lem

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:14PM (#52285633)
  • This sounds exactly like a series of scenes covered by Bad Lip Reading. There's a lesson to be learned there. Not sure what though.

    • The lesson is that you CAN mambo dogface to the banana patch.

      • by glitch! ( 57276 )

        The lesson is that you CAN mambo dogface to the banana patch.

        Ha! Thanks for the reminder. I still have that record, and it has been two or three decades since I played it last.

    • One thing I learned from watching Bad Lip Reading's music videos is that the iPhone poops. Consider the following BLR lyric:

      Everybody poops and if they don't they're an android and should be destroyed

      Translating into logical notation and apply David Hume's is-ought guillotine:

      Not(Poops(X)) => IsAndroid(X)

      Taking the contrapositive:

      Not(IsAndroid(X)) => Poops(X)

      Substituting X = iPhone in preparation for some lighthearted equivocation:

      Not(IsAndroid(iPhone)) => Poops(iPhone)

      The iPhone does not run a Goo

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The problem with AI in this area is that AI has no real I so at best it can analyse millions of movies and come up with something based on that, but surely it would have trouble to be anything beyond average by the nature of the golden rule for computing garbage in, garbage out. The truth is there is no AI just people using an algorithm to make a movie based on inputs because computers cannot think.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they would have titled is "Aphasia" it would have passed for art.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:49PM (#52285807) Journal

    That gibberish sucked.

    • I disagree. I just saw it and was surprised how amazingly similar it was to Total Recall....

      The second one.
  • by ssclift ( 97988 ) on Thursday June 09, 2016 @09:52PM (#52285819)

    Seems "AI" hasn't come much further than the chat bot we had at Waterloo about 2005. We fed it the Star Wars scripts, the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a few scholarly articles about the Iraq war. It was occasionally funny. It was about as coherent as that script.

    I'm reminded of the remark that a dancing dog is interesting because it has been taught to dance, not because it dances well.

  • Didn't read TFA, but I'm wondering if going to the "skull" is the AI fouling up the Navy term "head" for toilet. If so, I guess the whole thing could be hilarious because it's the AI version of Engrish.

  • There are programs that can do much better than this

    This is barely barely above randomly selected markov chain yielded phrases

  • Hack screenwriter will have a long time their job security before such AI write anything acceptable.
  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @01:10AM (#52286415)

    Since it's not really clear from the video here's a link to the screenplay [docdroid.net].

    It's looks more or less what you'd expect a screenplay written by a chatbot trained on screenplays to look like.

    Just be glad they didn't give the assignment to Microsoft's Tay.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Just be glad they didn't give the assignment to Microsoft's Tay.

      If they had done so, it might actually have been funny—like a bad episode of South Park or something.

  • It is neither hilarious nor intense, it is a incoherent stream of loosly coupled phrases. It is entirely reminiscent of Eliza.

  • ... go out of their way to infuse this mindless gibberish with meaning.
    Which they do a pretty good job at, btw.

    Funny conceptional art experiment, nothing more. No big deal.
    An 80ies Amiga could've generated that script.

    • I agree, as I was watching it I found myself thinking that the actors did a fantastic job of making nonsense seem like it meant something. Their performance was more laudable than the script.
  • I have not seen it, but all I see here is people who 'obviously' see that this was written by AI, while others say it is similar to what humans would produce.

    So what about people who do NOT know it was written by a bot? Would they pick up on it and leave with 'Why did they force me to watch something written by a computer?" or would they just say "That was a good/bad movie."

  • Provoking laughter is not the same as being funny or entertaining.

  • A) AI is advancing to the point where it can create a movie script!

    or

    B) Hollywood is devolving to the point that all movies are so formulaic as to be indistinguishable from that produced by a cold thoughtless computer.

    Though I suppose you can say both are occurring with resulting curves intersecting at this point in time...

  • "Movie Written By Algorithm Turns Out To Be Hilarious and Intense" - No, amazing actors do a great job communicating emotion, interpersonal dynamics and a semi-plot while reciting nonsense written by an AI.

  • I hope that AI's will be incapable of writing scripts without plot holes; they should be incapable of creating them. Of course the movie might then be less enjoyable to the majority of the movie going public, but I look forward to it.
  • The first act of the movie is about people saying nonsensical things and not understanding each other. In the second act a man goes into room of portals and nearly kills himself. Then in the third act a woman narrates nonsense into the camera, although it does almost turn into a porno for a moment.

    Soundtrack has bizarre lyrics, but they're still better than anything U2 ever wrote.

  • Forget good. This thing has a long, long way to go before it's even bad.

  • I note it is missing from IMDB and figured I could add it but occurs to me that there is issues with entering the writer's details. IMDB will assume the writer is a person. I guess the details of the computer that wrote the script could be entered. The date of birth or gender could get interesting. I think this is increasingly going to be an issue, Human writers could be upset that a machine is getting the same status, Until the machines reach the status of being sentient then maybe they shouldn't be
  • There was a film called “AI", which was originally something Kubrick was working on from his own idea and script, a project he tinkered with for many years, filming bits of it here and there, but which was still a majorly unfinished work when he died. By some dark Hollywood juju it was eventually transformed into a Steven Spielberg movie, but if you were unfortunate enough to have seen it (as I have, regrettably) you know that the finished product wasn’t exactly a film partaking of the best idea

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