An IBM supercomputer named Watson was commissioned by Fox to make a trailer for their new film “Morgan,” which came out in theaters Sept. 2. The trailer came out on Aug. 31, and is the first ever to be produced by artificial intelligence (AI). Fittingly, “Morgan” is a thriller about an AI that goes rogue and starts killing humans. Watson was taught to put together a trailer that made the film look scary and unsettling.
“We thought, let’s send Watson to film school,” joked IBM Fellow John Smith in a promotional video about the trailer. The IBM research team behind the project “showed” Watson a series of horror movie trailers, which Watson then analyzed to learn what it meant, in terms of audio, visuals and composition, for a scene to be “scary.” It was then shown “Morgan,” and chose what it deemed the scariest scenes for the trailer. The ten scenes chosen by Watson, totaling about six minutes in length, were then assembled into a trailer by a human editor, who noted that the editing process took only a day as opposed to the typical movie-trailer timeline of several weeks.
This was not Watson’s first pop culture project by any means. In 2010, it mastered “Jeopardy!,” an accomplishment more exciting than it sounds because it demonstrated the strength of Watson’s grasp on language. The AI was even able to come up with correct answers that incorporated wordplay, such as “Alexander the Great Gatsby” for a question in a category involving “mashups;” it also beat “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings.
The trailer itself looks pretty legitimate. It starts with a scene of Morgan the AI in her early stages, moves through some dimly lit scenes of people speaking in hushed, tense voices, and ends with a scene of Morgan threatening to kill one of its creators. Watson’s job was definitely done as well as that of any human editor; you wouldn’t know the trailer was AI-produced if it were not for Fox’s enormous amounts of promotion. Watson seems to have a pretty good understanding of which things humans identify as fear, which is unsettling to say the least.
However, we probably don’t have a “Morgan” situation on our hands—that is, an AI capable of killing its creators. Watson has no independent desires, nor has any AI researcher developed a robot that one could genuinely mistake for a human. The closest we’ve come in decades of development is Nadine, a “social robot” developed in 2013 with strong language skills—and even she is visibly uncanny and very clearly nonhuman. We have a long way to go before we can even consider producing artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to feel emotions, although Watson’s grasp on the meaning of fear is certainly a step in that direction.
So is this a one-time trick or the beginning of a long trailer-producing career for Watson? Nobody at IBM or Fox has said anything on the subject, but considering how many hours of work Watson saved the studio, it seems like this may not be its last foray into the film industry. Automated labor is cheaper and more efficient than human labor, after all. Perhaps the really scary thing about what Watson has just done is not the prospect of it going rogue, but the potential for AI like Watson to replace human labor, which could prove dangerous to workers in a capitalist society. On the flip side, AI could simply help save time and energy that could be spent on better things, perhaps steering humanity away from its current system altogether and into an AI-driven utopia, or at least that’s the belief of many who claim that the Singularity– the point at which artificial human intelligence exceeds human intelligence in every way– is coming soon.
Regardless of which side you take, though, AI is here to stay. It probably won’t lead us into utopia or total destruction anytime soon, especially considering that as of now, most of us still don’t interact on a daily basis with AI more advanced than Siri. At any rate, IBM is proud of what Watson has done. “Reducing the time of a process from weeks to hours –that is the true power of AI,” said Mike Zimmerman of IBM communications in an official statement. We will see whether film studios will tap into this power more in the future.
Photo courtesy of Scott Free Production