How AI can benefit Hollywood and solve its most pressing needs (Part 1 of 3)

Russell S.A. Palmer
5 min readNov 23, 2021

The entertainment industry might be the final one disrupted by Machine Learning, but if done right it can be as revolutionary as the camera.

Long road leading to the Hollywood hills
Artificial Intelligence is on its way to Hollywood next

Act 1 — The Machine Learning Revolution

You don’t need to follow tech news to know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is finally arriving, after so many “AI winters”. It’s going to impact every aspect of humanity in the coming years, and how could it not? The first Artificial General Intelligence will be the only example in the history of the known universe where one life form invents another.

Hollywood itself has done a great job of portraying AI and robots, sometimes in endearing ways (Her, A.I., JARVIS and Vision from Avengers, C3PO from Star Wars), and sometimes frighteningly (The Matrix, The Terminator, Ex Machina, Ultron from Avengers, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Thanks to Turing-award winners Hinton, LeCun, and Bengio [1], the world has delivered self-driving cars, near-perfect translation, and digital assistants like Siri. If science fiction is any guide, AI will either continue beneficially and cure cancer, invent anti-gravity space travel, and replace all boring and dangerous work, or robots will decide humans are a threat and wipe us out. Big talk but it’s real and it’s coming soon. Every major tech company is betting the farm on AI and Deep Learning, and every non-tech industry and government should prepare [2]. If many predictions are right, AI will be more disruptive than the Internet or even electricity was.

We’ve seen real breakthroughs. We’ve learned a lot. One key insight is that for most tasks AI can surpass a human expert. However, the combination of AI + Human Expert wins out over all [3]. Keeping a “human-in-the-loop” will especially benefit creative activities. Sure no one you ask today wants to stream Hip Hop songs written by a robot (who hasn’t lived a compelling and brave story). I doubt collectors would buy a painting — as realistic or beautiful as it might be — without appreciating the artist’s compelling life story. Could AI make movies too? Not yet, but it will eat away at the edges for a while, even if considered a toy until it affects every facet of the entertainment industry (the classic Innovator’s Dilemma [4]).

To this point no one has paired education in cinema (i.e. Film School and Creative Writing) with experience in AI product development, and teamed up to generate enjoyable movies. I see a parallel between AI and the WWII Manhattan project (started when FDR got wind of Axis powers leveraging breakthroughs in physics). Eventually someone is going to apply AI to cinema, so I hope it’s a team of people with the goal of growing creative opportunities and democratizing Hollywood.

We don’t program machines in this new world, because we’re imperfect and they’re faster and smarter than us. Instead, we show AI examples (e.g. a picture with a cat; then one without a cat) and it teaches itself how to identify if a cat is in a picture. But does that mean AI can only copy what we’ve already shown it? Absolutely not. DeepMind has proven this already with AlphaGo [5]. If you see the documentary, it’s clear AI can master skills watching us — but even better — it can teach itself without any instruction from us blending human fallibilities in. And when the moment is right, such as the famous Move 37 against Lee Sedol, AI will invent concepts that experts agree no human possibly has ever have thought of [5].

AI can learn as humans do from examples by “reading” novels, “watching” videos, and “studying” textbooks, but on a scale no person could ever achieve in a lifetime. Techniques like unsupervised-learning and reinforcement-learning can even start to take humans out of the teaching bottleneck. But more importantly it can then figure out how to go beyond what’s ever been done. Beyond anything humans could think of (like Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule to reach expertise — machines will set benchmarks like 10 Trillion hours of practice learning and outreach even humanity’s combined minds). AI is already better at games, from Super Mario to Jeopardy. They’re better at diagnosing diseases, helping doctors improve the quality and scale of triage. Why not apply this powerful new tool to creativity next?

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist — Picasso

Act 2 — What’s On Next

Next read Part 2 of this 3-part series on AI disrupting Hollywood.

Attribution and Links

Top photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Bottom photo purchased from iStock (illustration ID:1140173140)

[1] 2018 Turing Award (ACM)

[2] National and International AI Strategies (Future of Life Institute)

[3] Articles explaining this observation include:

[4] The Innovator’s Dilemma (Christensen)

[5] AlphaGo (DeepMind)




Russell S.A. Palmer

CEO of CyberFilm AI in SF. From Toronto Canada. AI PM for 15 years across Silicon Valley at Microsoft, Viv Labs, Samsung, and JPMorgan Chase.