Artificial intelligence is exploding right now. From ChatGPT to Google’s Bard to DALL-E, these new technologies are forcing the question about the place of human agency in a technological society. That includes the world of cinema.
Here’s a Scenario
Here’s a cheery scenario: you drop by the local Barnes & Noble before seeing the seventeenth iteration of Spider-Man in theaters. The year is 2040. You buy a hot new bestseller written by a chatbot and are impressed by the linguistic originality, even though the novel still follows a pretty crude narrative structure. Then, it’s off to see the show. You’re in the theater with your ticket and popcorn, both of which were given to you by a non-sentient robotic arm and screen and sit down in anticipation. Spider-Man is a stunning visual achievement, complete with an immersive New York City setting, awkward Peter Parker humor, and compelling dialogue and action. The ending is followed by the credits, and you’re a bit shocked to find that a singular entity is responsible for the film: an AI system called Cinema-bot. It’s a new AI system purchased by Hollywood (although cyber pirates are trying to hack it and make it available to the public) and has dispensed the need for human actors, directors, producers, stage managers, etc.
Now, is this a future possibility? Yes…and no. It’s complicated. Apparently, it isn’t fully out of AI’s reach to do something like this. According to an article from Wired, AI’s abilities in visual creation are remarkably good and are getting better fast. Writer Amanda Hoover reports,
AI’s role in film could evolve beyond the viral meme, allowing tech to help cast movies, model scenes before they’re shot, and even swap actors in and out of scenes. The technology is advancing rapidly, and it will likely take years before such generators could, say, produce an entire short film based on prompts, if they’re ever able to. Still, AI’s potential in entertainment is massive.-Amanda Hoover, AI Videos Are Freaky and Weird Now. But Where Are They Headed? | WIRED
While so much of the focus in the AI explosion seems to be centered on ChatGPT, the world of entertainment is anxiously watching and biting its nails, waiting until the artificial specters visit them for their day of reaping, too. However, Hoover goes on to give a more skeptical appraisal of AI’s potential for a total transformation of the film industry. Alluding to the obvious, an AI Hollywood takeover would destroy the “human touch” inherent in filmmaking. She references a company called Wonder Dynamics, which seeks to add AI generated content to videos without supplanting the central human actors:
If movies lose their human touch, the “movie magic” could vanish, says Nikola Todorovic, Wonder Dynamics’ cofounder. “What’s the point of movies if no human is involved in making them?” The success of AI in film will depend on whether it can recreate that magic. Attempts so far have been intriguing but ultimately disappointing, or harmful—a reminder that just because AI can engineer content doesn’t mean it should.
Save the Humans in Hollywood!
I wrote here about novelist John Steinbeck’s view that the written word is an endeavor to establish human connection. It is one voice calling out to another in hope of a conversation. Perhaps his sentiments can transfer to the cinematic arts, too. A good actress speaks to the audience. She resonates with the viewer, even though it’s just a performance, an act. As in other artistic mediums, movies explore what it means to be human.
AI image generators are impressive, but as Hoover notes, capacity doesn’t entail necessity. Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we must use it in every single sphere of society. We don’t need to put such a burden on ourselves. If AI can enhance films in helpful ways, great. But why would we want to fully supplant human actors with the machine? Plus, no one can replace the inimitable Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man. I don’t care how accurate AI might imitate his nerdiness and mythic wonder. Sam Raimi’s original trilogy will always be supreme.