The Near Future of AI Media
CableLabs is developing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that are helping pave the way to an emerging paradigm of media experiences. We’re identifying architecture and compute demands that will need to be handled in order to deliver these kinds of experiences, with no buffering, over the network.
The Emerging AI Media Paradigm
Aristotle ranks story as the second-best way to arrive at empirical truth and philosophical debate as the first. Since the days of ancient oral tradition, storytelling practices have evolved, and in recent history, technology has brought story to the platforms of cinema and gaming. Although the methods to create story differ on each platform, the fact that story requires an audience has always kept it separate from the domain of Aristotle’s philosophical debate…until now.
The screen and stage are observational: they’re by nature something separate and removed from causal reality. For games, the same principle applies: like a child observing an anthill, the child can use a stick to poke and prod at the ants to observe what they will do by his interaction. But the experience remains observational, and the practices that have made gaming work until now have been built upon that principle.
To address how AI is changing story, it’s important to understand that the observational experience has been mostly removed with platforms using six degrees of freedom (6DoF). Creating VR content with observational methods is ultimately a letdown: the user is present and active within the VR system, and the observational methods don’t measure up to what the user’s freedom of movement, or agency, is calling for. It’s like putting a child in a playground with a stick to poke and prod at it.
AI story is governed by methods of experience, not observation. This paradigm shift requires looking at actual human experience, rather than the narrative techniques that have governed traditional story platforms.
Why VR Story is Failing
The HBO series, Westworld, is about an AI-driven theme park with hundreds of robot ‘Hosts’ that are indistinguishable from real people. Humans are invited to indulge their every urge, killing and desecrating the agents as they wish since none of their actions have any real-world consequence. What Westworld is missing, despite a compelling argument from its writers, is that in reality, humans are fragile, complex social beings rather than sociopaths, and when given a choice, becoming more primal and brutal is not a trajectory for a better human experience. However, what is real about Westworld, is the mythic lessons that the story handles: the seduction of technology, the risk of humans playing God, and overcoming controlling authority to name a few.
This is the same experiential principal in regards to superheroes or any kind of fictional action figure: being invincible or having superhuman powers is not a part of authentic human becoming. These devices work well for teaching about dormant psychological forces, but not for the actual assimilation of them, and this is where the confusion around VR story begins.
Producing narrative experiences for 6DoF, including social robotics, means handling real human experience, and that means understanding a person’s actual emotion, behavior, and perception. Truth is being arrived at not by observing a story, but rather, truth is being assimilated by experience.
A New Era for Story
The most famous scene in Star Wars is when Vader is revealed as Luke’s father. Luke makes the decision to commit suicide rather than join the dark side with his father. Luke miraculously survives his fall into a dark void, is rescued by Leia, and ultimately emerges anew. The audience naturally understands the evil archetype of Vader, the good archetype of Obi-Wan, and Luke’s epic sacrifice of choosing principle over self in this pivotal scene. The archetypes and the sacrifice are real, and that’s why they work for Star Wars or for any story and its characters, but Jedi’s are not real. Actually training to become a Jedi is delusional, but the archetype of a master warrior in any social domain is very real.
And this is where it gets exciting.
Story, it turns out, was not originally intended for passive entertainment, rather it was a way to guide and teach about the actual experience. The concept of archetypes goes back to Plato, but Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell made them popular, and it was Hollywood that adopted them for character development and screenwriting. According to Jung, archetypes are primordial energies of the unconscious that move into the conscious. In order for a person to grow and build a healthy psyche, he or she must assimilate the archetype that’s showing up in their experience.
The assimilation of archetypes is a real experience, and according to Campbell, the process of assimilation is when a person feels most fully alive. Movies, being observed by the audience, are like a mental exercise for how a person might go about that assimilation. If story is to scale on the platforms of VR, MR (mixed reality) and social robotics, the user must experience archetypal assimilation to a degree of reality that the flat screen cannot achieve.
But how? The scope of producing for user archetypes is massive. To really consider doing that means going full circle back to Aristotle’s philosophy and it’s offspring disciplines of psychology, theology, and the sciences - all of which have their own thought leaders, debates, and agreements on what truth by experience really means. The future paradigm of AI story, it seems, includes returning to the Socratic method of questioning, probing, and arguing in order to build critical thinking skills and self-awareness in the user. If AI can be used to achieve a greater reality in that experience, then this is the beginning of a technology that could turn computer-human interaction into an exciting adventure into the self.
You can learn more about what CableLabs is working on by watching my demonstration, in partnership with USC's Institute for Creative Technologies, on AI agents.
Eric Klassen is an Executive Producer and Innovation Project Engineer at CableLabs. You can read more about storytelling and VR in his article in Multichannel News, "Active Story: How Virtual Reality is Changing Narratives." Subscribe to our blog to keep current on our work in AI.