5 Days exploring film, technology, science & art @ CPH:DOX in partnership with Documentary Campus.
Theme Day 1: Art, Technology & Change
The film industry is changing as fast as it can (not very), to keep up with audience habits. New tech however, is lean and flexible by nature, partly because creators are still struggling with finding the right delivery mechanisms, but mainly because it’s all new enough that the possibilities are still pretty open.
Case in point, one wonders if Watson might put me out of a job some time soon.
Brainchild of the Multimedia and Vision team from the T. J. Watson Research Center at IBM, WATSON is AI that’s started putting trailers together.
An AI film trailer, put together by AI. Smart.
John R Smith, IBM Fellow and Manager of the department, asked the question “Can artificial intelligence be creative?” A terrifying question for anyone in the business. We can sort of tolerate the idea that AI might be ale to analyse meaning from data, maybe even reach certain conclusions as well. But to mimic the creative process? The mysterious thing that justifies our existence and careers because it can’t be defined? That can be learned?
Not quite yet, but the wheels are in motion.
“For me creativity in science begins with method” says Smith. In other words, once you define a system of learning, you have a shot, if you follow it through.
Once films have been input into WATSON (in this case horror films), it is taught how to recognize what it sees on the screen: laughter, a car, the color red, the sky, etc. The same is done for trailers for those films, so it can evaluate what makes a good one. Then another film is through WATSON, and it tags everything it recognizes into its database. It files the information and can retrieve specific shots at will. With all the footage tagged and filed, It then evaluates what footage would be appropriate for a trailer, based on the reference films’ relationships with their trailers. In effect, it uses “experience” as a way of deciding what shots to choose. An editor does the creative work afterwards, but the selects come from WATSON.
And out of 10 shots selected by the beast, the editor agreed with 8 of them. Staggering.
If the method really is the beginning of creativity, I’d better start thinking of getting some AI implants or something. (to be fair, it did give me fantasies of being in my edit suits and saying “Watson, pull everything with a red flower in it.”
Staying in the realm of AI and automation, We’re still deciding what our relationship is with the things we create. David Sirkin’s talk How do we live with robots was a fascinating look at some of the user experience design research being done at Stanford.
Driverless cars, a living room ottoman, and even trash cans were all subjects in the department’s heavily documented research.
The amazing thing is how quick we are to assign personalities to the robots that we meet. A rolling ottoman places itself under a subject’s feet. When it later moves, the subject thought that he had done something to somehow upset the ottoman. Another pets it like a dog when it moves. Or desk drawers that respond to the patterns of the person sitting there. Sometimes they go with the flow, and sometimes against it. One desk even started “chuckling” when the subject dropped something (drawers quickly going in and out like a wheezy guffaw). Subjects’ reactions are measured, but always engaged in trying to understand the machine’s behavior.
We’re a long way from cylons, but what’s clear is that we have to be aware of how we interact with the things we create, lest we risk them becoming our overlords.
Back in a slightly more 2D world we heard from the realm of impact comics from Ram Devineni, Producer/Director at Rattapallax.
His talk was Augmented reality activism. His project, Priya’s Shakti, is an AR digital comic, that also works as an augmented reality piece that for once is actually targeted at the slums where violence against women, including acid attacks, are at their highest. “We looked at female characters from American comics (huge breasted, scantily clad), and said Fuck That! We spent lots of time creating a new kind of natural hero, steeped in Hindu culture.”
The comic itself is wonderfully different from the usual fare. I’m still a bit unclear about the impact of the AR components, but you can check them out yourself and see what you think.
At the very least, Yay! A positive female role model, and a project that understands that the problem needs to be tackled as a men’s issue (the perpetrators), not a woman’s.
Ah. Closeness to home, with a project from Montreal’s Dpt.
Paul George presented The Enemy, a VR / AR experience by war photographer Karim Ben Khelifa. He filmed combatants from opposing sides (Israeli / Palestinian for example), answering the same questions and speaking of the same things: Who is your enemy? Have you ever killed your enemy? And so on. In the VR space, users are between the 2 combatants, standing face to face. Looking at the Israeli soldier, he gets into what makes an enemy his enemy, and the Palestinian does the same.
“We have more in common than we have differences” says George. We fear the same things, respect most of the same values. If we could listen to each other… maybe we could hear each other.”
It’s always difficult to judge how a VR piece functions unless you’ve been strapped into the headset, but the theory behind the project is, I think, sound. Strip away the ideologies and politics and at heart we’re all ultimately human. A Jewish friend of mine with an Israeli girlfriend once said to me “ I can’t move to Israel. In theory you and I could end up shooting at each other (me being Syrian).” The weirdest pre-disposition to violence and warfare seems hardwired in, but it’s still ultimately learned. Maybe going through the VR “empathy machine” can bridge the gap that diplomacy and proximity can’t.
Ending the day was creative technologist Eric Magnee’s Smartphone orchestra. I don’t want to spoil it for you so check it out here.
I had a tiny hand consulting on this project, but it was my first time seeing it on the big screen. What can I say; it’s a great film! Director Morten Traavik was there for a good Q & A afterwards, and all walked away satisfied.
One screening left Sunday the 26th at 9:30, at the Nordisk Film Palads cinema.
Coming up: The Conference coverage continues, More film, more industry, and an interview with Matt Johnson of The The fame, on the occasion of his new documentary The Inertia Variations, screening with Q & A Screenings