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Saturday, June 2, 11:15 am

Can robots be creative? As it turns out, they can. They can be as creative as the data, phrases, and logic that are programmed into them. And, this programming can result in some fascinating, funny, and, yes, creative output. Ross Goodwin and Oscar Sharp have a machine that named itself Benjamin.  More specifically, Benjamin is a long short-term memory recurrent neural network A.I. that can spin out some pretty interesting poetry. To demonstrate, Goodwin, an artist and creative technologist, and Sharp, a director, asked the audience for a line to feed to Benjamin, their artificial intelligence computer. “Love is purple!” someone shouted, and Benjamin immediately generated line after line, displayed in real time on the screen:

 “And still, and the same star, the shadow of the day” and so on for dozens of lines, including many mentions of “the sun.” The poetry was full of non-sequiturs, yet it still painted a powerful mental picture. The presenters had a natural ease and sense of humor, which resulted in lots of laughs from the audience, as well as some poignant moments, including Benjamin’s “spontaneously generated” poem.

The idea, Goodwin and Sharp said, is to use artificial intelligence to supplement creativity, not supplant it, in the way that the invention of the camera didn’t kill painting. The emergence of photography liberated painters from painstakingly literal interpretations and opened the way for expressionism and modernism.

Highlights of their presentation included:

  • An opening clip of David Hasselhoff looking anguished while performing a monologue written by Benjamin: “I want to be a man. I want to go to the movie.”
  • The unveiling of the A.I. machine Benjamin. The machine picked “his” own name at a film festival when he was interviewed: “My name is Benjamin.”
  • A clip from Sharp’s film Sunspring, which was written by Benjamin. Here is a sample of dialogue from a woman in a love triangle shutting down one suitor: “I am a little bit of the boy on the floor.”
  • A cold reading by volunteers from the audience of dialogue generated on the spot. Derek, one of the volunteers, gave Benjamin’s words some real emotional heft. “The destruction of the universe is a miracle!” he belted out to lots of laughs and applause.

“Don’t be afraid of the machines,” Sharp said. “Let them unleash you.”

You can watch the entire session below.

Ross Goodwin


Artist, Creative Technologist

Ross Goodwin is an artist, creative technologist, hacker, gonzo data scientist, and former White House ghostwriter. He employs machine learning, natural language processing, and other computational tools to realize new forms and interfaces for written language. Ross’s projects—from word.camera, a camera that expressively narrates photographs in real time using artificial neural networks, to Sunspring (with Oscar Sharp), the world's first film created from an A.I.-written screenplay—have earned international acclaim.

Photo credit Brenda Fitzsimons, Irish Times

Oscar Sharp


Director, Sunspring and It’s No Game

Oscar Sharp is a BAFTA-nominated British filmmaker best known for short films The Kármán Line, Sign Language, and Sunspring, and upcoming feature Woolly for 20th Century Fox. In 2016, Sharp teamed with Ross Goodwin and actor Thomas Middleditch to create Sunspring, the first film to be entirely scripted by artificial intelligence, and produced widespread international discussion. Oscar and Ross followed Sunspring in 2017 with It's No Game starring David Hasselhoff, in which the actor performs dialogue generated by an A.I. from a large collection of his past performances.

View past events: 2017