Creative Economy & Cultures of Production, Digital Culture, Media Industries

Industry and Academia Meet in Edinburgh to Discuss AI-Driven Creativity

Nina Vindum Rasmussen

The hype is real: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is truly having a moment. The broad term refers to devices designed to act intelligently by mimicking the cognitive functions of the human brain. Advances in AI are disrupting major industries, including the creative sector. News headlines chronicle how AI and machine learning are aiding the production of songs, stories, and screenplays. In 2018, the first AI-generated painting sold for $432,500. These developments force the creative industries to rethink what that crucial word ‘creativity’ actually means, and whether or not it can be distilled into math. Sure, AI systems have the ability to crunch through staggering amounts of data and detect patterns invisible to humans. But can these technologies help us transcend artistic barriers, or will their creations only ever be derivative? Will AI fully master the creative process without humans in the loop – and even if this is technically feasible, should it be the goal?

On 20-21 November 2019, the second annual Beyond Conference in Edinburgh offered a glimpse of what AI-powered creativity can look, sound, and feel like. The conference was produced by the Creative Economy Programme (AHRC), and it brought together academics, businesses, journalists, and artists under one roof in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms. Over the course of two days, delegates explored how AI, machine learning, and big data analytics impact the creative industries – and the other way around. As the conference host, Gemma Milne, asked: ‘Can AI really do something creative and award-worthy, or do the creative industries present the biggest challenge for AI?’ Beyond 2019 tackled this and other big issues, including questions of authorship and intellectual property rights. Speakers also engaged with the darker sides of AI such as implicit bias, which was brilliantly demonstrated by the artist Karen Palmer in her presentation of her immersive film ‘RIOT.’ Along with other creative professionals, she shed light on both the limitations and opportunities of these technologies.

The musician Reeps One uses AI and machine learning to push himself further. Or as he says: ‘To push the voice is to push the mind.’

Working with AI as a Creative Partner

One highlight was the talk by beatboxer and artist Reeps One (Harry Yeff), who has been reaping the benefits of machine learning to push his voice further. Back in 2018, the renowned musician debuted the first ever beatboxing battle between him and his AI twin. For Reeps One, working in tandem with these technologies have opened the floodgates for a new wave of innovation: ‘We’re able to observe ourselves, understand ourselves, quantify ourselves in a way that we cannot without this technology,’ he said. That is a human thing, he assured the conference delegates and continued: ‘We can use these technologies to become more human and grow in the spaces that we want. There is no AI. It is humans using tools.’

The musician Reeps One uses AI and machine learning to push himself further. Or as he says: ‘To push the voice is to push the mind.’

This point was echoed by several speakers throughout the two days in Edinburgh. Michiel Ruelens, CTO at ScriptBook, explained how AI can offer a helping hand in deciding which film projects should be greenlit for production. ‘Hard Science. Better Content,’ ScriptBook’s tagline goes. When you upload a PDF file of a screenplay, ScriptBook’s AI system will compare your work to the thousands of other films in their database. Five minutes later, the system has predicted the MPAA rating, box office results, and target audience. It will also analyse the characters, identify the protagonists and antagonists, evaluate their emotions, and determine whether your screenplay passes the Bechdel Test (i.e. at least two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man). A full replica of the script analysis platform is available here: ScriptBook demo.

ScriptBook. Michiel Ruelens, CTO at ScriptBook, shared his vision of revolutionising the film business with AI.

Recently, ScriptBook also moved into automated story generation, which the company sees as a way of overcoming writer’s block. DeepStory, as the AI system is called, is not meant to put screenwriters out of work, though: ‘We don’t really intend to create a story generator that creates full feature films all on its own from start to finish. We sort of see it as a co-creator or an inspiration tool,’ Michiel Ruelens said.

Chanuki Seresinhe, who works at the Alan Turing Institute and tech company Popsa, agreed that AI can foster creativity. It can combine things in a novel way, which might inspire an artist. ‘But at this moment, the algorithm doesn’t actually know when it has created something new, or whether it’s actually any good. It’s just done it. It’s still up to us to do the final tick box,’ she concluded. In other words, AI remains relegated to the role of an assistant in the creative process rather than an author – at least for now.

Karen Palmer, a.k.a. the ‘Storyteller from the Future’, talked about her immersive film ‘RIOT’, which applies facial recognition and AI to reveal the subconscious behaviour of the audience.