The hype versus reality of AI in Hollywood

For every problem you can think of, there is someone who will come up with a solution that involves artificial intelligence. AI could help solve persistent problems such as climate change and hazardous working conditions, the technology’s most enthusiastic promoters promise.

It could even solve the much-maligned “Game of Thrones” finale, if one of the industry’s strongest advocates and a featured speaker at this month’s South by Southwest conference is to be believed.

“Imagine if you could ask your AI to create a new ending that goes a different way,” said Greg Brockman, president and co-founder of OpenAI, the research group behind ChatGPT conversation software and the module for generating images DALL-E. “Maybe you can even put yourself there as a main character or something, with interactive experiences.”

Rewriting an HBO show so your digital likeness can slay dragons might seem a little frivolous for a technology as hyped as artificial intelligence. But it’s an application that’s been getting a lot of attention, including at South by Southwest (or SXSW), the annual technology and culture expo that flooded Austin, Texas with movie nerds, celebrities, and venture capitalists last week.

During the conference, attendees imagined what chatbots, deepfakes and content-generating software will mean for the creative industries.

At a live podcast recording titled “Generative AI: Oh God What Now?” two technologists wondered how many creativity-driven jobs will be taken over by machines. In a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session, entrepreneurs proposed new ways to integrate AI into entertainment, for example by splitting audio clips or automatically visualizing movie scripts. A SoundCloud executive told another audience that people who categorically reject AI-generated music are “a bit like the synthesizer haters” of the early days of electronic music.

And it’s not just SXSW attendees and speakers who are excited about the space. Venture capitalists have signed 845 AI-related deals worth a total of $7.1 billion so far this year, despite a tech market that is different, according to market research firm PitchBook waving.

In Los Angeles, home to the entertainment industry and a growing technology sector, companies are already looking to add artificial intelligence to Hollywood’s production cycle. Santa Monica-based Flawless has focused on using deep-fake style tools to edit actors’ mouth movements and facial expressions after principal photography is wrapped. Playa Vista’s Digital Domain brings the technology to stunt work.

“AI could be a great tool to democratize many aspects of moviemaking,” said Tye Sheridan, an actor who has starred in movies like “Ready Player One” and the rebooted X-Men series. “You don’t need a lot of people or a lot of equipment or a lot of complicated software with expensive licenses; I think you really open the door to a lot of opportunities for artists.

Along with VFX artist Nikola Todorovic, Sheridan founded Wonder Dynamics, a West Hollywood-based company focused on using AI to make motion capture easier.

In a demo Sheridan and Todorovic showed to The Times ahead of their own SXSW panel, the software captured an early scene from the James Bond movie “Spectre” — of Daniel Craig dramatically walking across a roof in Mexico City — and scrubbed the actor out to replace him with a moving, gestural CGI character. The benefits are clear to Sheridan.

“I mean, you don’t have to wear those crazy-looking motion capture outfits anymore, do you?” Sheridan said.

But despite all the hype, some remain skeptical, wondering how much of the excitement is froth fueled by venture capital.

It’s only been a year at SXSW 2022, that technologists seemed to be all in on crypto. But soon enough, crypto values plummetedregulators cracked and industrial mainstays imploded. Even the metaverse – the other “next big thing” Silicon Valley has pitched in recent years – has so far proved disappointing.

It doesn’t help that the tech entertainment space has its own trail of unfulfilled promises. Do you remember 360-degree virtual reality movies? Do you remember 3D TVs?

The rise of written AI has also raised concerns from unions representing screenwriters, who fear studios could replace veteran TV and film writers with software. This year, the Writers Guild of America will require studios to regulate the use of material produced by artificial intelligence and similar technologies as part of negotiating a new wage contract this year.

“We’ve already gone through several hype cycles, not just with AI, but with other types of technological innovations,” said David Gunkel, a professor of media studies at Northern Illinois University who focuses on the ethics of emerging technologies. “And so it’s smart to always be careful about how many predictions you make about radically changing something, because in some cases that doesn’t happen.”

Even if the general AI hype is justified, the question of what impact this rapidly emerging field will have specifically on the entertainment industry is trickier, in part because it raises questions about creativity, originality, and artistic foresight that don’t arise when a program makes a transcript, for example. of an interview or a dinner reservation.

The standard of true artificial creativity has not yet been met by entertainment-oriented AI, says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. Referring to Alan Alda’s recent attempt to get ChatGPT to write him a new scene of “M*A*S*H,” Amabile noted via email that the software required substantial input from Alda, and even then produced dialogue that was alternately incoherent or unfunny.

“That doesn’t mean AI will never be able to produce a really funny sitcom script or a masterfully moving movie score,” she said. “But it will have to be a different kind of AI. We’re not there yet and I don’t think we’ll be there any time soon. In my opinion, anyone who claims to know when and how that will happen is engaging in deception or wishful thinking.”

Still, the potential impact of artificial intelligence seems hard to deny. Generative programs like DALL-E and ChatGPT have exploded into the mainstream in the space of a few months, filling social media feeds with machine-made images and to fail Job interviews which many a PR rep would envy in front of their human clients.

AI also doesn’t require users to set up a complicated crypto wallet or buy an expensive VR headset to understand the appeal, and the technology is quickly being integrated into search engines and social media apps.

“Crypto and [the] metaverse were two big trends that I think Silicon Valley and the tech industry hoped would be huge waves,” Jonah Peretti, Chief Executive of BuzzFeed, said on stage at SXSW. His company has started integrating artificial intelligence into its personality quizzes. “I think AI is just a much, much better wave in that it produces so much more useful stuff.”

“You don’t think… that we’re just going to continue these bogus trends until interest rates go up?” asked his interviewer, former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith.

No, said Peretti, this is not another bubble destined to burst. The rise of AI is more like mobile phones or social media: “massive trends that have changed the economy, society and culture.”

Amy Webb, CEO of the consultancy Future Today Institute, is generally optimistic about AI’s transformative potential. In a trend report her company just published, AI was the only tech vertical out of 10 for which the predicted impact was the color-coded lime green — that is, imminently relevant — for every industry they tracked, including entertainment.

Webb envisions a world where artificial intelligence programs are used to mass-produce many different versions of a single TV pilot, either to focus them before release or to show different ones to different viewers afterwards.

“I bet there’s going to be a terrible practice in the industry sometime in the next few years where you have to have multiple variations before things get the go-ahead,” Webb said in an interview. “And then there’s a kind of predictive algorithm that tries to determine which version is most likely to yield the most.” [money].”

As promising as AI is — and as eager as many SXSW panelists were to announce its all-encompassing arrival — some industry insiders caution against expecting too much, too soon, from the technology.

Many of the AI ​​tools that have gone mainstream in recent months look good on a Twitter feed but may not stand up to scrutiny, said Todorovic, the VFX artist turned AI entrepreneur. “Some of these things where you just think, ‘Oh, I’ll just type this, I’ll generate the whole movie’ — I think it’s more like… you get a sense of it and you can go and work on it on top of.”

“It’s a bit of a hype,” he added, “thinking you’re going to replace all these artists.”

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