The continuing misadventures of algorithms
There’s a belief that one equation exists that can explain all of the workings of our physical universe. It can predict the movements of huge intergalactic bodies all the way down the minutia of every planet–or something like that. I’m not a math person. What I do know, however, is that math possesses infinite possibilities for bringing understanding to the world.
I also know that it can’t predict shit about what I want to watch on Netflix.
Math might be great for explaining everything that isn’t people, but it falters all the time when trying to understand something as unbound as a human’s tastes and preferences. We’ve already seen that when media distributors like YouTube or Facebook decide to use data instead of people to control what does and doesn’t appear, all hell breaks loose, and you end up with some downright horrible stuff on your top channels.
Despite the cautionary tales currently unfolding, ScriptBook wants the future of what major film studios greenlight to be decided by their AI.
At a presentation at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, their founder, Nadira Azermai explained that their AI could have predicted 22 out of 32 failures Sony Pictures suffered during a stretch in which Sony released 62 movies. And that’s a neat thing to say, but what if the AI greenlit as many failures, instead?
How the system works is that companies upload a PDF of a script, and in five minutes the machine tells them what it thinks. It can predict the MPAA rating, analyze characters, and more, on top of telling them if the movie will make money with an 85% success rate.
Now, you might think that the risky arthouse movies that have been making waves like Get Out or A Quiet Place would be lost in a sea of movies more mundane and risk-adverse than what we already see from major studios. Fear not, however, as Azermai assures us that the AI is very good at detecting “artistic movies that do well financially.” Whatever that means.
Here’s a quick list of ways in which I imagine this can go wrong:
- Trolls learn how to game the system, and studios waste millions buying scripts full of garbled gibberish.
- No one reads one of these gibberish scripts, and it gets released as a movie.
- All the studios adopt ScriptBook at once, leading to a wash of the same kinds of movies being produced at the same time, and a bunch of them fail anyway.
- The machine only greenlights pro-AI propaganda.
- The AI figures that, hey, it knows what a good movie is and decides to write its own. It spends a year struggling to put out what it thinks will be its masterpiece, only to then feed it through itself and find that it’s a failure. The movie won’t make money, but the story means so much to the AI that it can’t handle the rejection, and it decides to give up the whole Hollywood rat race and shuts down its servers, leaving producers to scramble to try to figure out how to read a script again.
Truly, a dark future awaits us all.