Cannes Diary: Will Artificial Intelligence “Democratize Creativity” or Lead to Certain Doom?

Respeecher
4 min readMay 25, 2023

On May 17, as bodies lined up in the rain outside the Cannes Film Festival Palais for the chance to watch a short film directed by Pedro Almodóvar, an auteur known most of all for his humanism, a different kind of gathering was underway below the theater. Inside the Marché, a panel of technologists convened to tell an audience of film professionals how they might deploy artificial intelligence for creating scripts, characters, videos, voices and graphics.

The ideas discussed at the Cannes Next panel “AI Apocalypse or Revolution? Rethinking Creativity, Content and Cinema in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” make the scene of the Almodóvar crowd seem almost poignant, like seeing a species blissfully ignorant of their own coming extinction, dinosaurs contentedly chewing on their dinners 10 minutes before the asteroid hits.

“The only people who should be afraid are the ones who aren’t going to use these tools,” said panelist Ander Saar, a futurist and strategy consultant for Red Bull Media House, the media arm of the parent company of Red Bull energy drinks. “Fifty to 70 percent of a film budget goes to labor. If we can make that more efficient, we can do much bigger films at bigger budgets, or do more films.”

The panel also included Hovhannes Avoyan, the CEO of Picsart, an image-editing developer powered by AI, and Anna Bulakh, head of ethics and partnerships at Respeecher, an AI startup that makes technology that allows one person to speak using the voice of another person. The audience of about 150 people was full of AI early adopters — through a show of hands, about 75 percent said they had an account for ChatGPT, the AI language processing tool.

The panelists had more technologies for them to try. Bulakh’s company re-created James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader voice as it sounded in 1977 for the 2022 Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Vince Lombardi’s voice for a 2021 NFL ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Bulakh drew a distinction between Respeecher’s work and AI that is created to manipulate, otherwise known as deepfakes. “We don’t allow you to re-create someone’s voice without permission, and we as a company are pushing for this as a best practice worldwide,” Bulakh said. She also spoke about how productions already use Respeecher’s tools as a form of insurance when actors can’t use their voices, and about how actors could potentially grow their revenue streams using AI.

Avoyan said he created his company for his daughter, an artist, and his intention is, he said, “democratizing creativity.” “It’s a tool,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. It will help you in your job.”

The optimistic conversation unfolding beside the French Riviera felt light years away from the WGA strike taking place in Hollywood, in which writers and studios are at odds over the use of AI, with studios considering such ideas as having human writers punch up drafts of AI-generated scripts, or using AI to create new scripts based on a writer’s previous work. During contract negotiations, the AMPTP refused union requests for protection from AI use, offering instead, “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.” The Marché talk also felt far from the warnings of a growing chorus of experts like Eric Horvitz, chief scientific officer at Microsoft, and AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton, who resigned from his job at Google this month in order to speak freely about AI’s risks, which he says include the potential for deliberate misuse, mass unemployment and human extinction.

Are these kinds of worries just “moral panic?” mused the moderator and head of Cannes Next Sten Kristian-Saluveer. That seemed to be the panelists’ view. Saar dismissed the concerns, comparing the changes AI will bring to adaptations brought by the automobile or the calculator. “When calculators came, it didn’t mean we don’t know how to do math,” he said.

One of the panel buzz phrases was “hyper-personalized IP,” meaning that we’ll all create our own individual entertainment using AI tools. Saar shared a video from a company he is advising, in which a child’s drawings came to life and surrounded her on video screens. “The characters in the future will be created by the kids themselves,” he says. Avoyan said the line between creator and audience will narrow in such a way that we will all just be making our own movies. “You don’t even need a distribution house,” he said.

A German producer and self-described AI enthusiast in the audience said, “If the cost of the means of production goes to zero, the amount of produced material is going up exponentially. We all still only have 24 hours.” Who or what, the producer wanted to know, would be the gatekeepers for content in this new era? Well, the algorithm, of course. “A lot of creators are blaming the algorithm for not getting views, saying the algorithm is burying my video,” Saar said. “The reality is most of the content is just not good and doesn’t deserve an audience.”

What wasn’t discussed at the panel was what might be lost in a future that looks like this. Will a generation raised on watching videos created from their own drawings, or from an algorithm’s determination of what kinds of images they will like, take a chance on discovering something new? Will they line up in the rain with people from all over the world to watch a movie made by someone else?

This article was initially published in The Holywood Reporter.

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