Can how you spend the festive season influence the future of entertainment? Following the release of Alan Warburton’s film highlighting the potential effects of AI on the entertainment industry, Lily and David discuss what role AI could play in our consumption of films and videos in the future, and the potential implications for society.
Watch Alan Warburton’s film, The Wizard of AI, here.
[00:00:00] Lily: Hello and welcome to the IDEMS Responsible AI podcast, our special series of the IDEMS podcast. I’m Lily Clements, an Impact Activation Fellow, and I’m here with David Stern, a founding director of IDEMS. Hi David.
[00:00:12] David: Hi Lily. A festive special today. I’m looking forward to it. What are we discussing?
[00:00:17] Lily: Absolutely. And I like the idea of having a little festive special. There’s this new film, I say film, about 20 minutes documentary, I think they’ve called it. But they’re also calling it a film. And it’s about the dangers of AI. Well, it’s meant to be about the dangers of AI. And it’s made by AI.
[00:00:36] David: Yes, exactly. It’s rather interesting, isn’t it?
[00:00:40] Lily: Absolutely. No, very interesting. And the creator of it has said some very, very interesting points.
[00:00:48] David: Well, it’s a mixture about the points that he’s made, but also, as an artist, he is demonstrating the way AI could transform entertainment as we know it. People are settling in for the festive season… But it could well be in a few years time that as people get entertained through the festive season, that much of what they’re entertained by is actually AI generated in some form. I wonder what that future looks like. And this is what the artist is pointing to, and pointing out some of the dangers, but also some of the opportunities.
[00:01:28] Lily: Absolutely. Linking to what you said about a couple of years time and how things could change in just a few years. I mean, Warburton, the artist who created the film, even said that it took him three weeks to make it. But if you tried to make it two years ago, it would have taken about three months to make instead and a larger team and would have cost more.
And so it shows how quickly things are even transforming and how actually this idea of AI generated film seems to me like a world away, but then I suppose a year and a half ago, so did the idea of things like chat GPT.
[00:02:06] David: Absolutely. And this is the thing, what I love about this particular instance and example is, and the film itself is irrelevant. No, that’s not true. It’s not. It’s a really interesting film, and it is very relevant and topical. But the thing which is so powerful and I’m keen to discuss is, what does this mean for, well, the entertainment industry? Over the festive period, a lot of people actually consume quite a lot of… either old movies or… people have things that they are entertained by and which is part of that, that experience.
What will this become if instead of it requiring the sort of levels of investment that it has in the past, you could actually, cheaply and efficiently, be producing feature length movies in a way which is unimaginable at this point in time, using AI. What will that world look like?
[00:03:12] Lily: Yeah, and I’m really interested by that question. I mean, I don’t have, I don’t think anyone has an answer, at least I definitely don’t have an idea, but I guess in Warburton’s film he said that it was that he wrote the script. The script wasn’t AI generated, just the images were, but I suppose, we’ve got the writer’s strike at the moment and things. Is it that we’re going to have AI generated scripts in the future? Because that seems pretty conceivable now.
[00:03:39] David: Absolutely.
[00:03:39] Lily: Or AI generated, like the actual images, or both?
[00:03:43] David: There’s no reason that we couldn’t imagine having both in the relatively near future. But the point which Warburton makes, which I think is so important, and the thing which isn’t going to change, is that a good film isn’t about the fact that you’ve just got something. It’s about the decisions you make along the way. Imagine a scenario where actually you can produce a good, high quality film and it doesn’t cost millions and millions or billions of dollars to produce it.
[00:04:23] Lily: Well, an interesting point from that is about, I guess, the consumer. So, at the moment, I believe that there’s been a bit of a turning point for films in recent years with things like Netflix, and people have been able to consume on that rather than cinema.
[00:04:40] David: And that change in the amount of money which Netflix has to spend to produce good new content is enormous. Imagine if the cost of that goes down significantly. The good new content could be as cheap to produce as YouTube. Not quite, but you see what I mean. So, people produce YouTube content all the time and that then gets consumed. But what if, actually, a lot of the production cost that was needed to produce high quality new material went right the way down.
Now it’s not going to reduce the skill of people producing good content because although AI can potentially do almost all the decisions along the way and there are lots of jobs potentially at risk within the industry at the moment because of that, the difference between something which is really good and something which is not as good is about decisions which are made.
And I believe very strongly that those decisions are… Well, this is exactly where a good artist, their interpretation, is what has real value. Now, there’s different ways that this could play out. In one scenario of the world, that means that the companies are able to make more profit for a smaller number of people because they need less people to produce high quality content, and they capture people into their digital ecosystems, and therefore, they are able to be more and more profitable, leading to greater inequality and the problems about work in different ways.
Or an alternative scenario is that because the barriers to financing something and to creating something could be lower, the return you need to make to get good content could be lower and therefore you could have more people creating good content. And therefore more people are using the creative skills of actually choosing how to get content and maybe less people are consuming any individual piece of content but more people are actually the creators. Well this is a bit what’s happened with social media and TikTok. And, you know, imagine the same thing happened for movies, actually democratizing the movie production process.
I wonder what that might look like. Now, I don’t know if that’s what I want. I want somebody to quality control and to choose and to help me, guide me on what to watch. I don’t know that either of these are particularly attractive to me as future scenarios, but both I can see in some sense feasible.
And I wonder what the middle ground would be that I think would be attractive. On the one hand, we have a very centralised, highly extractive system. On the other hand, we have a highly democratized mess. I wonder what exists in the middle. And both of these systems that currently exist, I think have real value. Take them to their logical extreme, as you sort of reduce the cost of actually producing these things, and neither of them are that attractive to me. Whereas, I wonder what a third way could be?
[00:08:19] Lily: Yeah, I don’t like either!
[00:08:23] David: Exactly!
[00:08:23] Lily: But then I was thinking, well, you know, a few years ago I probably didn’t like the concept of Netflix or streaming services. I probably didn’t like that concept because you have to have connectivity.
[00:08:35] David: But Netflix is inherently exclusive. If you can’t afford to pay for it, you can’t consume it. That particular business model, and I wonder what an inclusive version of a streaming service might look like.
[00:08:50] Lily: You’ve touched on this in a different podcast with Santiago on the IDEMS business models. So we won’t try…
[00:08:57] David: We won’t dig into that, but we do have ideas about what alternatives could be and how you could get an alternative. But to think of it as this simple two extremes is actually to recognize that more generally as a society, we seem to be stuck into this idea of single dimensional extremes and we get caught on one or the other. Well, [there’s] this amazing thing that despite the amazing work of people like Ostrom, who won the first female Nobel prize for economics, which demonstrated that even in political systems, there isn’t just big government versus liberal. Well it’s not just as simple as big government versus small government. There is another way to manage societies and common resources. But in general, we tend to be stuck in this dichotomy of actually there’s a highly controlled way of doing things and then there’s free speech at the other extreme, if you want. And this recognition that actually there’s this, it’s not just that there’s shades of grey between that, it’s that there’s actually other ways to consider some of these things.
Sometimes by thinking outside of the single dimension, if you get too stuck being extremist one way or the other way, which is the natural thing that tends to happen, with businesses in different ways, is they optimise. And optimising often leads to you being quite extreme, you have a big movie production, well, the cost of that has to be recovered by having a big delivery apparatus.
You have your other extreme; your somebody sharing a little clip of themselves doing something. That can be shared quickly and cost effectively, and anyone can do it. And then, yes, you get influencers who come out who have the number of people following them and all the rest of it, but that sort of dichotomy between if you want the big business approach versus the individual content creation is just another form of this extreme element.
I wonder where we can get things in the middle ground much more. And I feel there’s some real opportunities there, just as a society to think about using entertainment opportunities that could be coming. A big reason why TikTok and other short video formats have exploded is because it’s suddenly become absolutely acceptable.
You can get high quality content relatively easily and a lot of people do already use bits of AI in that, but it’s relatively easy to get high quality content out to the masses. Whether masses consume it or not is a whole different matter. Whereas the production side of actually big business, big films, the big production studios, the costs for them of doing something which is of a different production quality, they’ve skyrocketed. You look at the credits for any major movie and it’s just insane, the number of people who are involved in creating any blockbuster or any big movie is huge.
And that’s, where’s that middle ground? Some people are in that middle ground, and there’s an art scene movie industry, which is there. But I do find it interesting that that middle ground could be much bigger and I wonder whether these AI tools may actually help that middle ground.
And that would be interesting because the two extremes, as you say, neither of those seem particularly appealing if you think about how AI could transform them.
[00:13:02] Lily: Absolutely. It’s very interesting. I mean, while you’re talking, I was thinking about, it was in 2018, a streaming service came out, and I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s about Q U I B I. Queeby? Quibby? I’m not sure. It lasted less than a year, but it’s kind of thing was that it’s for, ten minute films, Quick Bytes, which is where the Queeby came from. But that, in 2018, didn’t last a year. It makes you think, well, maybe if something like that came out after AI generated content…
[00:13:37] David: Maybe, I wonder whether something like that could take off. And, and so yes, you’re changing the nature of what might exist. I mean, I don’t have the answers here. I certainly am not, I’m not predicting any future. But what I am seeing is a word of possibility. And that’s exciting, it’s also a bit scary, because jobs are going to be lost, that is clear. But at the same time, I wonder what will be created. Jobs being lost may not actually matter if you think about the fact that, well, think about everybody who’s on the credits of that big blockbuster movie: how many of them actually want to be the director?
[00:14:20] Lily: Sure.
[00:14:21] David: In their heart of hearts, do they really want to have their role or would they actually be interested in having a different role? And actually, now with being able to get your creative vision to see the light of day, if that’s made easier, I wonder whether more people could be doing that and could be finding a way to make a living by doing that. Now that is a possibility, that it is possible for us to imagine a future and create a future where the jobs that are lost are actually not lost, they’re replaced by better jobs.
I’m not saying that the jobs that people have at the moment aren’t good. Lighting technicians may really, really enjoy their work. But if you can use AI so that the lighting is actually corrected or managed much more easily and it can be changed on the fly in different ways, the number of lighting technicians you need goes down. Well, I wonder what other jobs could be created because you actually have those tools and it means therefore the, you can be creating content differently.
[00:15:33] Lily: And hopefully those jobs that are created would be one that result in a kind of more equal playing field. People having the same, more or less, maybe not exactly the same opportunities because there will always be differences there, but that more people can have that opportunity to become that director, if they want to.
[00:15:55] David: But this is, I think, also different to this scenario of your TikTok, your other extreme, where everyone is the director, the creator, the actor, where you don’t have that production team around. So I wonder whether, again, moving from your individuals, more people could actually make it a team sport, that actually, it’s a set of people who have different skills who come together to bring their creative vision to fruition.
So I wonder whether at both ends there’s ways to move that. Now, the key thing that comes back to this in some sense is, well, all of this will really depend on the economics of it. Fundamentally, the decisions that we’re making, what we consume during the festive period in the future may determine what jobs exist.
Are we all waiting for the next blockbuster release? Or do we spend all our time on TikTok? Or what is it that we consume in the future? What do we want to consume? Do we want to have something maybe more local, which is maybe made by a extended family member or something as being actually what we choose to consume in this period in the future?
Maybe that would lead to something different. What we choose to consume, and the festive period in many places has become about consumerism. And this is, I think, really where I’m interested that this is getting to. That in many ways the choice of what we consume will determine the economics, the economical viability of the jobs of the future.
And it’s really interesting to think that through and to recognize that in the past actually as consumers, we might have thought that we had choice, and we did have a lot of choice, but our choice wasn’t as powerful as it is now. I believe what’s so interesting in thinking about this at this period of the year which is so much about giving, and has become in many cases so much about consuming, actually, choosing what to consume is so heavily related to who we give a job to, whose future we support.
It’s fantastic. It’s, it’s, it’s really in many ways empowered. It’s not what people think about. It’s a thought for the festive period is to think about when you chose what to share with others in this period, the gifts you bought, who did you support? Whose jobs are you supporting through those choices?
And that power is really fascinating to me. And this is what I find so interesting about where we started. An AI generated film about the dangers of AI is such a powerful illustration of what could be possible in the future because we can use this tool, and that’s all it is, AI is a tool. If used responsibly, it can give us as consumers choice to support and to enable the world we want to see, or we can choose to support and enable a future we might not want.
And recognizing the power of our choice, not just as an individual, but collective choice. And let me give you a very simple illustration. If everybody is talking about the latest big movie, well then, you kind of need to consume it to be able to be part of that conversation.
[00:20:05] Lily: Yeah.
[00:20:05] David: If you don’t, then you don’t have that commonality, that sense of community, because if you’re all consuming different local content, then you’re, you’re different, and your differences are highlighted rather than your commonality. We’re brought together by shared experiences. How do we reconcile that? How do we bring together those two things? What is it that we could have where our differences could be celebrated and bring us together because of a common commonality? I don’t know, I don’t have any answers to this, but I think these are the options of choice.
If you’re only looking at individual content, your individualism on that, versus the big consuming one, what about that middle ground? You want to have something where you can relate to other people. You want to be able to go to people you don’t know and to be able to have something that you know they’re likely to know about.
[00:21:03] Lily: Exactly. Well, this was what I was starting to think about when you were saying about people having their content and then they can consume the stuff that interests them, but actually what I really like is going out and seeing a film that I wouldn’t usually see. And you get exposed to new things, you get that diversity, you get exposed to these concepts or ideas that you wouldn’t usually come across or know. One that comes to mind, I guess, is Barbenheimer, of the two big ones this year, you wouldn’t usually put those two films together…
[00:21:33] David: Sorry, I’ve just realised we should make sure that it’s clear to the audience exactly what you mean. They might not be listening to this this year. And even if they are listening to it this year, they might not understand. So let me, let me let you explain.
[00:21:48] Lily: Someone’s managed to find their way into the room.
[00:21:52] David: Oh, that’s good. Hi Spencer. So your challenge of explaining has just gone up exponentially.
[00:22:00] Lily: Yes, yeah.
[00:22:01] David: As your dog just joining you there…
[00:22:02] Lily: Sure, it’ll be okay. Yeah, so Barbenheimer, it’s two films that came out this year on the same day. There was the Barbie movie and Oppenheimer. So the Barbie movie, it’s about Barbie, which is a very popular child’s toy, typically aimed at women, or at young girls, but it doesn’t have to be. And Oppenheimer is a film about the first atomic bomb, and the creation of that during the war. Two films you would not usually put together but they came out on the same day, and so then Barbenheimer became this idea for when they were advertising the films of, oh, you see both. You see both at the same time. You go to one, you leave that room, that screen, you go next door, you go watch the other one.
[00:22:47] David: And as you say, that idea that if you would normally only watch one of those types of films, actually watching them both together as an experience, and doing that as groups, as people have done a lot this year. This is something which is… it’s a pretty special experience, which is really related to this big movie apparatus that exists to attract people into cinemas. You don’t want to lose that.
[00:23:15] Lily: No, not at all. Not at all. And I like that diversity. I like going to see a film and then… It’s the little things as well, isn’t it? I’m at a hairdresser’s and you can just find some common ground with someone else to talk to something about that you wouldn’t usually.
[00:23:32] David: Yes, and being able to always have something in common, the uniting element of sport, of being able to have sport as something which unites people in so many different ways. And there’s so many other examples of this. And so, actually being able to have these things that bring people together is so important. I guess what I’m interested in is that, I don’t want to lose that, but we do have an opportunity to recognize that at this point in time, the tools that are getting developed, they lead us to an element of choice about the sort of things we encourage in the future. What else gets created.
[00:24:14] Lily: Yeah, and I wrote it down because I thought it was such an interesting point that you said, whose jobs are you supporting through your decisions? And that gives so much power to you as a consumer. I think that’s something to remember this festive season.
[00:24:26] David: Yes. And I’m certainly not advocating for extremism in any sense. I actually have an expression which I love. Everything in moderation, especially moderation. You can choose what you want to actually be extreme about and that’s fine and that’s good. But recognizing the power of moderation. So you don’t need to be obsessive about it. But actually recognizing it, being conscious. That’s probably what we need from our society at this point in time. A society which is making good conscious choices is likely to be the sort of society that I’m keen to live in in the future.
[00:25:10] Lily: No, well, I, I agree. Anyway, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap this up?
[00:25:16] David: To finish off this festive episode, I don’t think it’s been particularly festive, I apologise for that. It may be challenging in other ways. So, to finish on a sort of festive note, that as you think about your actions, I hope people feel empowered. I want to give a very simple example from my work on working with climate data and farmers in Africa.
Many farmers before they went through a process which helped support them with their decision making, they attributed a lot of their problems to climate change. And then looking at the data as part of this process, they were exposed to the fact that the climate was changing, but not in the ways that would lead to the consequences that they were facing in their fields. This didn’t change or diminish the problems they were facing. But it was empowering and seeing that empowerment, because it enabled them to see that climate change was totally out of their hands.
But the results of their farming were probably more due to the choices that they had, than this abstract concept which they could do nothing about. And therefore they felt empowered to go and make different choices, to make better choices. This is the thought I want to leave people with this festive season.
It has been a year where people talk about the poly crises, the fact that there were so many different crises, the climate crisis, the economic crisis, the cost of living crisis in the UK and elsewhere. There’s so many crises we’re facing and they are genuine crises. At this time, they are big problems which are really hard to deal with, to solve. But if instead of worrying about solving them, we just focus on what we can do.
I believe what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing right now is the power of our choice. Actually distinguishing, recognizing what’s within our power, where the choices we make, the small things, the little choices we make, make us powerful. So as we’re in the festive season and heading into the new year, I think I’d like to finish with this idea of leaving people to think about the choices that we make and the fact that we are powerful when we make choices. Good choices, whatever they may be, give us power back in this situation where we often feel powerless.
But that’s what I’d like to leave people with this festive season. You are powerful because of your choices.
[00:28:11] Lily: Yeah, thank you very much. A great way to end the festive podcast. Thank you. Thank you very much, David. All the best and happy holidays.