Part of the official selection at the recently concluded Sci-Fi London film festival was a short film entirely written by an AI that calls itself Benjamin. Sunspring, starring Thomas Middleditch from HBO’s Silicon Valley is a weird futuristic love triangle set inside a space-age contraption of some sort. It is also possibly the first milestone along a path that eventually leads to intelligent machines catapulting themselves up from the assembly lines into the previously unassailable cubicles of the creatives, eventually rendering all six and a half billion of us special snowflakes completely and utterly redundant.
Well, in theory at least.
In practice, Sunspring is a terrible novelty film. The first film ever written entirely by a machine features no plot worth talking about, dialogues that rarely flow in a logical manner and characters so inscrutable they could very well have starred in your last acid trip. Benjamin, who was fed on a diet of ‘80s science-fiction films and tv shows as part of his training, can approximate the syntax and structure of a script and even broad thematic elements like a love triangle and dysfunctional relationships. But his limitations, despite the actors’ best efforts to cover them up, are rather obvious – even the most pretentious arthouse film would probably deign to explain in some way why the protagonist throws up an eyeball mid-dialogue.
The sheer number of dialogues in Sunspring that are either “I don’t understand” or differently-phrased equivalents of it almost seems like Benjamin’s idea of a joke on his audience. Or maybe it’s just a problem caused by the source material – having read one too many X Files scripts, Benjamin might have surmised that human women turn to a man with a confused expression on their face roughly once every five minutes.
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For all its flaws, Sunspring does prove that a machine can write. Maybe not a narrative film, but if these were the words to a poem or a song, the gaps in logic would probably have been excused under cover of abstraction. Heck, considering the majority of big-budget franchise films these days are nothing more than a collection of well-worn clichés stirred together in a steaming pot full of CGI, a fine-tuned version of Benjamin would probably have no problem putting together a script for an Avengers sequel or an X-Men prequel, as the case may be.
Of course, as is often the case when dealing with artificial intelligence, there is always the alternate explanation. Maybe Benjamin’s film is only incoherent because of our puny capabilities of comprehension. Maybe it will only be recognised for its true worth once our robot overlords have taken over.
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