AI Reality Black Mirrors Fiction
Imagine Netflix made a TV show about how you were a terrible person. It captures all the moments where you were kind of a dirtbag. It recreates other events throughout your day that cast you in the worst light possible. It makes you a public enemy.
That’s the premise of a recent Black Mirror episode called “Joan is Awful,” and it’s not that far away from reality given two recent AI-related news items:
- Universal Music and Google were reported to be negotiating a deal to license artist IP for songs and content generated by AI.
- Zoom was under fire for apparently adding a clause to its terms of service that allowed the company to use customer data for AI training with no opt-out.
We’re now living in the plot of “Joan is Awful.”
Joan signs away rights to her likeness by agreeing to an online terms of service she didn’t read (like Zoom). A streaming service licenses the likeness of Selma Hayek to play Joan in an AI-generated video (like UMG/Google). Joan does progressively more awful things, which means Selma Hayek’s AI likeness does progressively more awful things, the real Selma objects, but she also signed away the rights to her image without scrutinizing her contract. War against the underlying AI ensues.
“Joan is Awful” offers a pretty good window into the future of entertainment.
AI will make us characters in the content we consume, giving us dynamic choose-your-own adventures. If you think TV and games are addictive now, just wait. AI will create the best movie we’ve ever seen every time we watch a movie and the best game we’ve ever played every time we play a game.
AI might transform entertainment more, and more quickly, than any other industry.
Or will it?
A Suspension of Disbelief
A great movie makes the audience suspend disbelief.
When we watch Luke Skywalker use the force to battle Stormtroopers in Star Wars, we know the force is an unreal concept. Yet, our engagement with the characters and story allows us to set aside objections of reason to enjoy the story being told.
Samuel Coleridge, an English poet, coined the idea of suspension of disbelief in the early 1800s:
“…My endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”
Willing suspension of disbelief is a required element for all great works of fiction. It’s also a required element to fantastic works of nonfiction and works that sit between.
Mr. Beast makes us suspend disbelief by doing insane things most people would never dream of trying. So did Evel Knievel several generations before. The WWE is built on a marriage of storytelling and physical insanity. We literally can’t believe the characters are doing what they’re doing.
Achieving suspension of disbelief depends on three things:
- Delightful surprise.
- Increasing tension that reaches a resolution.
- Emotional investment in a character’s story.
The first two elements are mechanisms of storytelling. A delightful surprise — Luke, I am your father — doesn’t have to be a happy one. And increasing tension to resolution is screenwriting 101. Or motorcycle jumping 101 in the case of Evel Knievel. Whether he makes it or not, you get surprise and resolution.
Emotional investment builds on human connection. Mr. Beast seems like a personable fun kid who’d be a super-fun friend in high school. A major component to his success is his likable personality mixed with doing the crazy things he does. Mr. Beast himself adds a human touch that enables continued emotional investment in his journey creating insane spectacles.
As I wrote about last week in The Things AI Won’t Change, the “human touch” is something AI can literally never do. The same concept of the human touch will separate the types of content that are revolutionized by AI and those that are just enhanced.