Quantum Leap: Computer programs could soon churn out books, movies and music

As part of a film competition in 2016, filmmaker Oscar Sharp and creative technologist Ross Goodwin fed a neural network a whole lot of movie scripts and gave it some cues, including the title and the setting. The screenplay that the artificial intelligence (AI) program produced was turned into a short film called Sunspring, starring Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch and directed by Sharp.

The movie, with its disjointed dialogue and ambiguous characters, does not make much sense. But how it came about was both alarming and exciting. Two years later, Sharp and Goodwin decided to allow the AI, which was given the name Jetson before it decided to call itself Benjamin, to write, edit and direct Zone Out with images of stars, including Middleditch, and scenes from old films. The result is even more bizarre than Sunspring.

Goodwin has done a similar experiment in literature, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Goodwin rigged a car with a microphone to record conversations, a location tracker and a camera, and drove from New York to New Orleans in 2017. With these inputs, the AI generated a novel, 1 The Road. In 2018, Christie’s sold an AI artwork for $4,32,000, and earlier this year, Google unveiled an AI-powered doodle on the birthday of composer Johann Sebastian Bach and allowed users to input a melody to be harmonised in Bach’s style.

Sure, these are all early, inchoate attempts at testing the creative lengths to which machine learning can go.

But the first palatable AI-led works will likely happen in genres of music and movies which are formulaic, like electronica and pop, and rom-coms and superhero flicks. And that might just open the sluice gates to a new era of man-machine collaborative creativity.


This story is part of the 'Tech that can change your life in the next decade' package