"Sunspring" Is A Short Sci-Fi Film Written Entirely By An Artificial Intelligence


Science fiction has been long known as a way humans show their expectation on technology. In Sunspring, it's like a total opposite: it's machines' turn to wonder.

Ever wonder how will the future of entertainment be? In the debut of Sunspring, the short science fiction film is not what it seems. The film is about three people living in a weird distant future that seems to be some of space station. As for the plot, it could be a love triangle.

The characters are played by Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch who stars as "H". He wears a shiny golden jacket. The character "H2", played by Elisabeth Grey, is the one with the computers. The character "C" (Humphrey Ker) announces that he has to "go to the skull" before putting his face into a pack of green lights.

What seems to be a B-grade sci-fi movie is complete with an incoherent plot, is a product created by a non-human - Sunspring is entirely written by an Artificial Intelligence (AI).

To be specific, the movie was authored by a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short. The AI itself is called Benjamin.

Sunspring, with all its defects and weirdness, made it fun to watch, especially when you know that a machine is the one that came up with the idea. The cast and crew were the people who put them all together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival where contestants are given a set of prompts (props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next couple of days.

Sharp has a longtime collaborator, Ross Goodwin, who is a former ghost writer and an AI researcher at New York University. He was the one who supplied Sharp with the writer (the AI was initially called Jetson). As they father the cast, Benjamin created the screenplay in which Sharp then randomly assigned roles to the actors.

"As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight," said Sharp to Ars Technica. The actors read their lines, adding their own characterized tone and body language. The result is like a tale of romance in a dark future with lines that are occasionally nonsensical.

Sunpring is complete with its own musical interlude performed by Andrew and Tiger. The song is composed by Benjamin after learning from a corpus of 30,000 pop songs.

Meet Benjamin

In the wake of Google AI's victory against human Go player, Benjamin is also an AI made to learn. While some see it as an art, others consider it a spam. But there is also people that think of it as a new life form. Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, a type of AI that is often used for text recognition.

Benjamin was trained by learning dozens of sci-fi screenplays Ross Goodwin found online. Most of which consists films from the 1980s and 1990s. Feeding on data, Benjamin pull down letters from speech, dissected the words to learn to predict. With this, Benjamin understands which letters tended to follow which, and what phrases and words tended to occur together.

As an LSTM, Benjamin has the advantage of recognizing text by having the ability to sample much longer strings of letters. With this ability, Benjamin can predict a whole paragraph rather than just words. Benjamin is also able to generate original sentences rather than putting them on spoilers, and able to put all together from its corpus rather than cutting and pasting sentences bits by bits.

With these advantages, Benjamin can learn to imitate the structure of a screenplay, and able to produce stage directions and character lines. The script was created by uploading hundreds of sci-fi screenplays into Benjamin's LSTM.


But with that sophistication, Benjamin is still having a hard time in creating proper names. Unlike humans, Benjamin's "first words" weren't names like how we call our mother and father. Banjamin doesn't have this ability because names aren't like other words that are predictable. For that reason, Goodwin changed all Sunspring's character names in Benjamin's corpus to single letters (H, H2 and C).

The original screenplay by Benjamin has two characters with the name of H. To prevent viewers from becoming confused, Oscar Sharp changed one of the character to H2 just for clarity.

Sunpring in the Sci-Fi London contest was placed in the top ten out of hundreds of entries. This delighted both Sharp and Goodwin. During the ceremony, Louis Savy who runs the film festival decided to interview the AI. And when Savy asked Benjamin: "What's next for you?"

This was Benjamin's reply:

Here we go. The staff is divided by the train of the burning machine building with sweat. No one will see your face. The children reach into the furnace, but the light is still slipping to the floor. The world is still embarrassed. The party is with your staff. My name is Benjamin.

AI is still very young, but it has learned many things throughout its existence, some of which were to dream and to write novels (examples here and recently here).

And as for Benjamin, both Sharp and Goodwin have decided to call the AI by its chosen name.