“For Sharp, the most interesting part of the Benjamin experiment has been learning about patterns in science fiction storytelling. Benjamin’s writing sounds original, even kooky, but it’s still based on patterns he’s discovered in what humans write. Sharp likes to call the results the “average version” of everything the AI looked at. Certain patterns kept coming up again and again. “There’s an interesting recurring pattern in Sunspring where characters say, ‘No I don’t know what that is. I’m not sure,'” said Goodwin. “They’re questioning the environment, questioning what’s in front of them. There’s a pattern in sci-fi movies of characters trying to understand the environment.” Sharp added that this process has changed his perspective on writing. He keeps catching himself having Benjamin-like moments while working: “I just finished a sci-fi screenplay, and it’s really interesting coming off this experience with Benjamin, thinking I have to have somebody say ‘What the hell is going on?’ Every time I use his tropes I think, oh of course. This is what sci-fi is about.” Sharp’s next project will be directing a movie called Randle Is Benign, about a computer scientist who creates the first superintelligent computer in 1981. “It’s uncanny how much parts of the screenplay echo the experience of working with Benjamin,” he said.
“Of course, Benjamin is hardly an objective source of information about our sci-fi obsessions. His corpus was biased. “I built the corpus from movie scripts I could find on the Internet,” said Goodwin (the titles are listed in Sunspring‘s opening credits). But some stories got weighted more heavily than others, purely due to what was available. Explained Sharp, “There’s only one entry on the list for X-Files, but that was every script from the show, and that was proportionally a lot of the corpus. In fact, most of the corpus is TV shows, like Stargate: SG1 and every episode of Star Trek and Futurama.” For a while, Sharp said, Benjamin kept “spitting out conversations between Mulder and Scully, [and you’d notice that] Scully spends more time asking what’s going on and Mulder spends more time explaining.”
“For Sharp and Goodwin, making Sunspring also highlighted how much humans have been trained by all the scripts we’ve consumed. Sharp said this became especially obvious when the actors responded to Sunspring‘s script as a love triangle. There is nothing inherently love triangle-ish about the script, and yet that felt like the most natural interpretation. “Maybe what we’re learning here is that because of the average movie, the corpus of what we’ve watched, all of us have been following that pattern and tediously so,” mused Sharp. “We are trained to see it, and to see it when it has not yet been imposed. It’s profoundly bothersome.” At the same time, it’s a valuable lesson about how we are primed to expect certain tropes: “Ross [Goodwin] has created an amazing funhouse mirror to hold up to various bodies of cultural content and reflect what they are.”
Text: Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense, Ars Technica
Pic: The Difference Engine.