A new US sitcom has made a lot of headlines in recent months. First for what it is, a series that intends to regenerate and air endlessly as if it were the worst soap opera, then for what it has become. Finally, for the controversy it generated after a joke deemed offensive by the public. Because of this, Nothing, Foreverparody of Seinfeld, had been forced to stop for about a month, before returning to the air last March. But why did she intrigue so much? Is she really that innovative? In itself no, it’s nothing special. But we have so far left out the decisive detail: it is created in all respects by an artificial intelligence.
Broadcast continuously on a Twitch channel where it has reached peaks of thousands of users connected simultaneously, nobody writes it, nobody interprets it, nobody spins it anywhere: it is the daughter of an algorithm, and an automatic play that creates looping situations, characters and plots. Result? It’s not bad. Sure, it’s not Seinfeld and progressively it seems to be less and less and more and less Seinfeld a cluster of elements taken from the best sitcoms of the eighties and nineties, but it works pretty well. It’s fun and engaging enough, smart enough, and brilliant enough at handling key moments. Quite, yes. But not too much: we repeat, Seinfeld was something else. It will always be something else. And the question we ask ourselves is only one, beyond any possible prejudice to be set aside regarding an expressive form of this kind: Is this really our future? A future in which to delegate creativity and imagination to machines?
The question is complex, quite a lot. We have noticed this in recent times, especially since we started talking – very often inappropriately – about artificial intelligence, also in relation to the production of TV series and films.
One of the crucial points of the mammoth writers’ strike and Hollywood actors currently in progress, on the other hand, involves the use of AI to support (or replace) authors and various members of the cast: it is feared, in fact, that the progressive introduction of new technologies could lead gigantic problems within the film industry, diminishing the work of thousands of people or even going so far as to eliminate it altogether in the name of more economically advantageous ways. How will it come out? In all likelihood, it won’t come out. With all due respect to anyone who is pursuing more or less legitimate or in some way shareable requests, this is a losing battle: here we are talking about Don Quixote who fights against windmills, and about a war against the future the outcome of which is already evident. It is enough to ask yourself a very simple question to understand it: why should a manufacturer pay a person in the flesh to make something that a machine could do with significantly lower costs, while guaranteeing very similar results with far fewer constraints?
Sadly, you don’t even have to answer. And we say unfortunately because the scenario that emerges is not exciting. Not because you want to make an idealistic question of it or want to feed it in any way the often ridiculous bogeymen who intend to demonize the development of artificial intelligence, at all. But because the idea of the future that is being defined day after day in this sense is not a little depressing: a world in which programmers have now taken the place of creatives, and in which human imagination has given way to sources of entertainment which have very little imaginative. Because of the machines? No: the cars represent one consequencecertainly not one cause. And the problem had already arisen both on television and in the cinema well before we started talking about artificial intelligence: the search for a guarantee on the profit associated with an important investment has in fact led, over time, to a progressive global flattening of films and TV series, increasingly anchored to old certainties, worn-out franchises and an infinite number of nostalgia operations that in most cases have nothing to express or tell. So what’s the difference between an author who always finds himself writing the same things and an algorithm that reworks data to come up with something that seems new but isn’t really new? What is the difference between the digital simulation of an actor’s interpretation and the performance of an actor confined to static roles, unable to exploit his talent?
We want to provoke you: the differences aren’t that many. And we also want to exaggerate: but isn’t it that artificial intelligence could have something intriguing to offer even on a creative level?
Here we feel like putting a barrier: a good one, in fact, would question the very definition of “artificial intelligence”, a definition that presupposes an autonomy of thought and action that algorithms today seem to be far from possessing, in favor of a more generic association to the field of “machine learning”. In essence, the algorithm reprocesses the data, decomposes and recomposes them, but it doesn’t come up with anything really new. And besides, she seems to be learning her lessons and acquiring her experience from bad teachers, thus becoming more and more “stupid”. Ultimately: if man does not enter “intelligent” data, the algorithm will increasingly give rise to some form of “artificial idiocy”. But let’s not digress further: a good person would be needed to address a topic like this, and whoever is writing to you is not good. The starting point, however, is functional to the answer we are looking for: by virtue of this, in fact it becomes evident that an algorithm does not currently have the possibility of being more creative than any human mind. Can you come up with something interesting? Absolutely yes. A book you would like to read? Why not. A series to watch in your spare time? A film to while away a few flying hours? We don’t doubt it: as we said at the beginning, the artificial parody of Seinfeld represents a valid product in itself. With a thousand problems, but still valid. Competitive even, in today’s television market. And this is happening now, not in ten years’ time: in perspective, therefore, it is clear that there are all the possibilities for replacing authors and actors in a satisfactory way.
How will it end? It will turn out that the major they will rely more and more on technologies of this kind and will increasingly standardize production. While human creativity, the craftsmanship on which the artistic dimension of television and cinema is based, will be relegated to the avant-garde of those who will still dare to emerge through second or third floor distributions. It won’t always be like this and the big names will continue to have space even within the most prestigious stages with budgets up to the expressive potential, but we’re going to extremes to highlight what will become the dominant trend. And what will the public be left with? The choice will remain, with the right lucidity in reading the evolving paintings: put up with the reworking of a story already told thirty years earlier, with the assumption that the notes will always be seven and the space to create something truly innovative will be increasingly reduced, or give a opportunity for more indie, underground productions. What will become the substrate of the entertainment industrycomposed trivially of flesh and blood people with real thoughts, real emotions and a sensibility that a machine, no matter how refined it is, can never have.
Definitely, we must surrender: the future is and will be this, whether we like it or not. But we must not give up on the idea of no longer seeking and supporting a creative starting point, an imaginative movement, an alternative vision of things. Building, without fossilizing ourselves within reconstructions that turn us off, flatten us, homogenize us. We seek enrichment, comparison, a way in which to dare and simply be human beings. Don’t become machines ourselves, unaware leading actors in which we ourselves are the product, protagonists of series made especially for us and for what remains of our individuality, as if we had ended up in an episode of Black Mirror. Why not: let’s make ourselves little Don Quixotes without challenging the windmills, but showing those who want to subjugate us to the absence of vision of a machine that man will always be one step ahead. He will always be able to write better than them, act better than them, come up with something that no one has seen yet.
Only in this way will we win a lost war: not with strikes, but with the perspective of those who still want to have fun with notes and combine them outside the box of an algorithm. Make ourselves a minority because we gambled away the majority from the outset with an idea of progress that does nothing but support our laziness it’s ours unwillingness to go deep. Outside the major circuit, giving strength to smaller productions.
This, after all, has made the fortunes of television in the last thirty years, since Twin Peaks e I Soprano a Breaking Bad e Succession: the moment we stopped thinking that things couldn’t work in a different way to tell something artistically valid, we became a little more beautiful, but the moment television became cinematographed in a drift that leverages on the usual certainties and vicious circles in which craftsmanship has given way to an aseptic industrialization, we have lost everything. Let’s not give up or we’ll end up like René Ferretti, replaced by an automaton for the direction of Too Sparkling: let’s embrace the dreamy René Ferretti, that of Machiavelli and Io Giuda, let’s support him with all our strength and everything, at least for a moment, will go well. Outside a multiplex, inside a small art-house cinema. Because we shouldn’t be afraid of artificial intelligence itself, it’s not our real enemy: we must be afraid of the artificial intelligence within ourselves. Yes, we should fight it to the end. Unfortunately, however, the white flag has been waving for some time now.