An Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Emotions by Watching 'Up'
If only there was an easily digestible narrative that wordlessly sums up the human experience, taking the audience from early childhood through to old age, and covering emotions such as happiness, satisfaction, grief, and loneliness. A team at MIT, working with McKinsey & Company, believe they have an answer: they've been showing an AI sad movies, including the first ten minutes of Pixar's 2009 movie Up, in order to teach them what it means to feel emotional pain.
If this doesn't kick off a robot apocalypse, perhaps nothing will.
Essentially, the experiment involved getting an artificial intelligence to watch the beginning of Up, marking down what emotional responses it thought people would experience at different times during the montage. This was then compared with the responses given from human participants, who watched the movie and recorded their own experiences, explaining when they felt happy or sad, what images provoked certain feelings, and how intensely they were felt.
As is par for the course with machine learning, all of this input was then fed into the AI so that it would better be able to identify and quantify emotional responses in the future. All going well, the AI should also be able to replicate these kinds of experiences, creating images that can tug on human heartstrings.
According to the researchers, this research is designed "to enhance [the work of storytellers] by providing insights that increase a story's emotional pull-for instance, identifying a musical score or visual image that helps engender feelings of hope".
"the x-axis is time, measured in minutes, and the y-axis is visual valence, or the extent to which images elicit positive or negative emotions at that particular time, as scored by the machine. the higher the score, the more positive the emotion..." https://t.co/xKbjw2URVG pic.twitter.com/AoADpBiomr— Rebekah Lowin (@rebekahlowin) December 11, 2017
In other words, in the future, a robot will be able to synthesize a movie scene that will cause viewers a genuine emotional response. This isn't too dissimilar to advancements in technology that are seeing computers create other forms of synthetic art, such as black metal albums, and it's already been proven that robots are able to learn to replicate complex ideas by being exposed to a lot of human artwork.
At the same time, modern filmmakers need not fear for their jobs just yet - while robots are making big strides in learning what kind of stories appeal to humans, they're still a long way from creating coherent narratives. Take, for example, Botnik Studios' recent attempts to synthesize a Harry Potter novel using a series of advanced AI predictive text keyboards, all being watched over by human writers.
The result is a wonderfully jumbled mess, but even with humans involved in the story mapping process, the book still feels like non-sequitur, abstract nonsense.
We have to hope that computers never quite manage to learn the intricacies of our emotional stimuli - at least not to the point that it can be weaponized. Decades ago, Monty Python created the idea of World War II troops killing Nazis by reciting a joke that was so funny it caused people to die laughing. With AI learning to toy with our emotions to elicit the maximum possible response, this no longer feels like such a laughing matter.