A look at human connection, innovation, and originality, increased audience engagement, screenwriting, and storytelling now.
The Hollywood SAG-AFTRA strike may be over, but this does not mean there is a solution where screenwriting and AI are concerned. The Guardian’s columnist, Peter Bradshaw, points out Hollywood is still in trouble and storytelling even more so.
The big questions revolve around implications for human connection, the balance between innovation and originality, the potential for increased audience engagement, and the evolution of screenwriting post the SAG-AFTRA strike.
The Human Connection in this New Digital Ecosystem
In their essay The Power of Storytelling, Hope Miller and Elsa Powel Strong argue that Artificial Intelligence is all about data whilst storytelling reinforces human bonds, connections, and emotions. AI does not have the emotional capacity to transcend this. It cannot ‘transfix a human audience, rendering them silent, awestruck and focused.’
Miller and Powel Strong acknowledge that AI can help us automate our lives for the better like ordering our groceries online, having Amazon suggest books we like, and getting Alexa to remind us to turn our lights off, giving us more time to put a premium on our human connections.
However, AI cannot handle the complexity of human language, experience, imagination, or creativity. It cannot tune into human feelings and the feelings of others. Stories are channels of human emotions and humans are emotional creatures. Emotions are what ‘makes us maddening and destructive, but also what makes us altruistic, innovative and aspirational’. Artificial Intelligence fails in all of the above!
Where does AI posit itself in the Arts and Cultural Sector?
The Space questions the tools available to help creative artists out there. Ross Goodwin, a self-described artist, creative technologist, hacker, gonzo scientist, and writer, generated the AI novel, 1 the Road, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Goodwin created it using an AI writing machine whilst driving across America. His work is centred around the bridging of technology and language.
Goodwin claims that most people tend to confuse Science Fiction with AI but when AI appears in anything Sci-Fi, it usually stands for working-class labour. We tend to think of ‘robot’ as a ‘slave’. Goodwin compares AI now to video art in the Sixties. When it came around, it was viewed as niche and new but overtime everybody started to use it.
Libby Heaney worked with dataset to develop Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot. She took all the dialogue from the novel and used 800 Tinder conversations – in an anonymous manner – to design an algorithm that would relevantly quote lines in answer to her audience’s message with the help of Bernie.ai – ‘your personal matchmaker A.I’.
One question that came cropping up was ‘Can AI come up with anything original?’. Everything seems to be derivative – a palimpsest if you would have it. Like Miller and Powel Strong argue, AI does not possess the childhood of a writer or the experience of an artist. And maybe this is where the role of the writer and the artist comes through. It is up to them to influence the dataset and algorithms they select.
Mis-using AI for Art’s Sake
Libby Heaney also touched on the topic of mis-using and subverting the use of this technology to challenge Big Tech. If Art is supposed to be controversial and provocative, then the use of AI in the Arts Sector should work in a parallel form. In one of her pieces, Britbot, Heaney used the UK citizenship test as her dataset and uploaded it as an online conversation to ask the audience about Britishness as a means to explore identity.
In Heaney’s opinion, the UK citizenship test is full of biases and prejudices of the people who created it. Heaney argues that AI tools can be misused creatively and productively to communicate said biases to the audience, in a storytelling form, or in a way that big tech companies simply would not or cannot.
There is no denying that AI is already disrupting the filmmaking world and the filmmakers who are going to embrace it first, are the ones accepting that their creativity is being challenged. Engaging the audience, however, is another matter altogether!
Using AI to Predict Audience Engagement in Film-making
In AI in Storytelling: Machine as co-creators, Eric Chu, Jonathan Dunn, Deb Roy, Geoffrey Sands, and Russell Stevens claim that AI would enhance a filmmaker’s work by improving the storytelling process, especially where emotional arcs are concerned.
A story’s emotional arc can influence audience engagement. A University of Pennsylvania study reviewed New York Times articles that elicited strong emotional responses from readers and encouraged positive feelings. Chu, Dunn, Roy, Geoffrey, Sands and Stevens believed it is logical that filmgoers might react the same way.
In a collaboration between MIT’s Lab for Social Machines and Mc Kinsey’s Consumer Tech and Media team, machine-learning models were developed, and the emotional arcs in the Pixar film Up were observed. A graph was then generated which depicted the highs and lows associated with positive or negative moments, which triggered respective emotional responses from the audience. Most films that engage audiences positively end on a high note. It is no misnomer then that one of the most popular classic tales is Cinderella, with its rags-to-riches narrative.
While the authors of the article do claim that every story doesn’t need to end on a high note, what monitoring these emotional responses could do is ‘inspire storytellers’ to make edits to increase engagement. Yet, if creators pander to audience engagement, what will happen to their voice? How is the art of filmmaking subversive this way?
Bradshaw claims that while the non-filtered Instagram placard-waving show is now over, Hollywood’s screenwriters’ voices may be far from back. He points out that filming can now continue on productions like Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2, and Wicked, which are, as he aptly highlights, nothing short of sequels and adaptations.
It is safe to say therefore that the blossoming of creativity and storytelling as we once knew it has nowhere near returned. As he puts it, the ‘industry honchos’ are still winning this battle.