If you have not yet seen the short film Sunspring, you’re missing something fascinating, bizarre, and potentially historic. It is a sci-fi short script written entirely by an AI named Benjamin. Specifically, Benjamin is a type of neural net called “long short-term memory” that is most often used for high end speech, handwriting, and text recognition. In the case of Sunspring, it was fed a few dozen classic sci-fi scripts (full list shown in the movie’s titles) and told to write its own short, which the human creative team then attempted to faithfully produce.
The results are… interesting, to say the least. While the stream-of-consciousness style of the language has drawn comparisons to the “cut ups” of William Burroughs or even some of the works of James Joyce, there is also a fair amount of straight up gibberish as well. In fact, what makes the film so interesting is that the majority of the meaning cannot be attributed to the “intent” of the AI author but rather the creative interpretation of the actors and directors. Sunspring is a type of collaboration between performers, viewers, and an AI all trying to pull together a coherent narrative by “reading the tea leaves” of the patterns common to sci-fi stories.
In many cases, these patterns are essentially tropes. The fact that an AI recognized this and incorporated it into a script is worth examining, as this seems to speak volumes about the genre itself. For the purpose of this article, I am choosing to focus on the gender narrative and what it says about sci-fi culture and the role of gender in the geek zeitgeist.