BC-born Silicon Valley actor Thomas Middleditch unveiled his latest project last week. Middleditch, who plays frazzled tech genius Richard Hendricks on the popular HBO show, hasn’t strayed far from his geeky roots. Sunspring, a nine minute long short, holds the distinction of being the first ever film written by an AI (artificial intelligence).
The AI’s name is Benjamin, and he’s the mastermind behind the scenes of Sunspring. A video team at Ars Technica, a popular technology publication for ‘alpha geeks,’ inputted scripts from past science fiction films into Benjamin. The AI then synthesized the data to create the script and title of the short. Middleditch tweeted about the process last week:
— Thomas Middleditch (@Middleditch) June 9, 2016
He’s right. Sunspring is difficult to comprehend. Despite the fact that the film’s runtime hovers around nine minutes (two of which are credits and behind-the-scenes footage explaining the filmmaking process), the remaining seven minutes of story are very convoluted.
Viewers have to make a few mental jumps to keep up with the “plot” of Sunspring. The dialogue is fragmented, and so the resulting sentences come out stunted and unnatural. The actors (Middleditch, along with Elisabeth Gray and Humphrey Ker) work passionately to convey their characters’ feelings, even though the words they speak make little to no sense.
It seems that Benjamin is unfamiliar with the nuances of human speech and emotion, and so the plot – which somehow contains betrayal, murder, space jelly, space travel, jokes, abandonment, and talking heads in the span of only a few scenes – feels untethered. Ironically, once the viewer is able to bridge the gaps made by the nonsensical dialogue, all of these factors make for an enjoyable, eclectic short.
I suspect feeding Benjamin sci-fi scripts isn’t the best way for artificial intelligence to learn human emotions, as genre usually takes place either in the future or in alternate universes, and so already contains converted language.
Maybe next time someone works with AI, they should use every Aaron Sorkin script instead. I’d like to hear some of Benjamin’s best zingers.