AI in the Film Industry. By Maggie Potter.
Science fiction has a rich history of utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) as a storytelling device. We’ve seen everything from robotic aliens who have come to test humanity in The Day the Earth Stood Still to superheroes who employ advanced technology to save the world. AI is also often depicted in villainous roles, reflecting our society’s suspicion of advanced machinery, but we have also explored the nature of what it is to be human through lifelike robotic characters.
We have reached a point where AI is no longer simply fodder for big-screen narratives; it is quickly becoming part of our contemporary life. As such, Hollywood is starting to utilize it in ways that have the potential of enhancing the commercial and creative aspects of the film industry while still presenting it as part of our rich storytelling lexicon.
How is the movie industry making practical use of this sci-fi mainstay, AI, in real life? How does reality compare to the popular depictions in film? Are there dangers evident in relying upon this technology in our entertainment?
In film, AI is often depicted as an omnipotent presence in a computer system. The Terminator franchise’s Skynet is an example of faceless, deep learning software that makes cold and inhumane decisions. This speaks to one of the great fears presented by AI: its autonomy. Its ability to manipulate and control systems without moral boundaries. This doesn’t just apply to military tech with worldwide consequences; we have seen this apply to business, too.
In Tron (1982), the MCP (Master Control Program), embodied primarily by a menacing digital voice, not only takes control of its owning corporation but also enacts physical defense mechanisms against members of staff who attempt to interfere. While “real” Hollywood is not yet at risk of AI making all business decisions, its use is currently being explored to help executives make choices that are believed to more likely result in success. Warner Brothers recently signed a deal with an AI startup Cinelytic who has designed a system to predict what elements should be included in movies in order to guarantee box office returns.
Such AI systems rely upon useful data to make accurate predictions. In this case of Cinelytic, it includes what actors connect best with audiences in which territories, what brands should make an appearance, and whether certain projects could produce merchandising. This approach has been treated with some skepticism because it ignores the artistic and cultural worth of movies in favor of financial returns. There is also the question of whether AI bias could affect diversity in an industry that already has significant problems in that area. In 2018, Amazon had to dump its AI recruiting tool because it proved biased against women when searching for engineering candidates.
AI is often depicted in film as the very antithesis of humanity. While computers are able to undertake inordinate calculations and control machinery across the planet, the robotic characters in movies often struggle with activities that exemplify human nature, including creative and artistic pursuits.
In I, Robot (2004), we get a glimpse into a future that is not too distant from our own. While today’s conversations about self-driving cars are dominated by topics of their safety and security with testing still very much in its early stages, the movie shows autonomous vehicles maneuvering intricately on busy roadways. The movie’s protagonist Detective Spooner, played by Will Smith, shows disdain and suspicion for this kind of AI-guided technology. At one point he poses the question of AI creativity: “Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?”
Can real-life AI contribute to the creative aspects of film? Visual effects are becoming much more prevalent in movies, and much of the artistic work is still undertaken by human animators and programmers. Much of the work of assembling digital effects takes a long time, however, and producers have found that incorporating AI software into computer graphics(CG) artwork creation can help speed the process. In the Avengers franchise, producers used the AI platform Digital Domain to capture actors’ faces and swiftly recreate them on CG characters, but it still remains the case that the most effective results come from a collaboration between artists and AI.
Security is a significant concern in our contemporary world. Whether it’s protecting ourselves against potential terrorist threats or cybercrime, we have begun to implement technologies that could assist us. Movies have often depicted AI systems designed to stand guard against a variety of perils, though these are also often shown to go horribly wrong.
In some movies, this plays into our reckless embrace of technology. Disney’s Smart House (1999), showed how a home automation system, which initially proved helpful, takes on a life of its own and becomes somewhat despotic. Our reality is slightly less dramatic. Smart homes are becoming a feature of our contemporary world, with automated security systems working in the internet of things (IoT) helping to control surveillance systems, door locks, and automated lighting, none of which is likely to turn evil.
Smart security also has a role to play in movie production. Cybercrime is increasingly becoming a problem, particularly in keeping details of movie productions safe from hackers who seek to leak details and even the content itself. AI is quickly becoming a useful tool for companies that need robust cybersecurity. Innovative developers are producing deep learning software that analyzes threats in real-time and works with other systems to counter possible breaches.
For the last few decades, AI has been depicted in movies in a negative light — a soulless, logical villain with designs on overthrowing humanity. Despite that, in recent years it has proven to be a useful tool to Hollywood, in all areas from production to business management. There is also potential for AI to have a greater impact, but we must continue to ensure that its use is a collaboration with human operators and not given complete autonomy.
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