The worthwhile and the possible: Creativity by algorithm?

Posted on June 13, 2016 by Xenia Kingsley

You may have heard about Sunspring on your recent journeys around the internet. The quote above is a line of dialogue from the new short film set in a future where ‘young people are forced to sell their blood’, apparently. So far, so sci-fi.  

But what’s really unique about Sunspring, is that the entire screenplay was created by a robot. The AI (which rather frighteningly named itself Benjamin) was fed the raw text screenplays of hundreds of sci-fi movies, along with prompts generated via a competition such as the film’s title and suggested lines of dialogue.

The robots are coming

The product is, in my opinion, eight of the most baffling minutes in cinematic history (coming from someone who’s DVD collection includes such titles as Tokyo Fish Attack and Poultrygeist). The plot is beyond incomprehensible. But let’s not judge it too harshly – this is just the first attempt robots have made at cracking this media.

Look however to the world of news reporting and we are already seeing journalists being replaced by AI that churns out market reports, sports commentary and endless clickbait faster than any human could.

So how, in the age of automation, do we as content creators avoid obsolescence? Isaac Asimov famously wrote “In a properly automated and educated world, [...] it may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile”.

By 2025 (sounds futuristic but it’s less than ten years away, folks), up to ninety per cent of our news could be written by robots. That leaves just a tenth for the humans to fight over.  

The key is creativity: content that is truly thought provoking and worthwhile. Algorithms are great at the drudgery – whether that be articles reporting football scores or entire books, such as The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Luggage and Utility Racks, but as Sunspring has shown us, they’re not great at weaving complex narratives. This is because robots lack the ability to connect seemingly abstract ideas in the way we can – they have no imagination.

We only need to fear the rise of the machines if the content we create is, in the (highly paraphrased) words of Asimov; dull, simple and repetitive.

Don’t be dull – be human.


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