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Fable, a San Francisco startup running a big project dubbed The Simulation, has released Showrunner AI technology, dubbed SHOW-1, which can generate new episodes of TV shows with you as the star.
It’s another big step for generative AI, which has been on a tear for the last six months. And the timing is interesting, considering both writers and actors are on strike in Hollywood.
The company, which under Fable won two Emmys and a Peabody award, has released a research paper outlining the potential of its AI Showrunner Agents, which can write, produce, direct, cast, edit, voice, and animate episodes of TV.
“Essentially, what the AI Showrunner does is create episodes of South Park for you. All of this is created by the AI Showrunner,” said Fable CEO Edward Saatchi, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Not just the dialogue. It animates, it does the voices, it does the editing. For the TV episodes, AI Showrunner can just generate episodes, or the user can create a prompt and create TV episodes based on a two-sentence prompt. People said AI can’t tell a story. Well, it can.”
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AI-created South Park episodes
Saatchi’s team has also released AI episodes of South Park as an example of the technology’s power.
“This paper is just the beginning – imagine a world where fans can put themselves in their favorite shows, create new episodes and compete to create the best episodes ever made or a world where creators can use the AI Showrunner to make their own original shows,” Saatchi said.
Saatchi cast himself in an episode of South Park, where Saatchi has a Fatal Attraction-style affair with Cartman. Another episode, dubbed Westland Chronicles, was generated entirely based on a simple text prompt that Saatchi wrote. In Westland Chronicles researchers from ‘Bizney’ research attempt to use AI to entertain America’s children, with disastrous results that cause a national scandal for a corporate entertainment studio and lead to Writers Guild of America (WGA) retaliation.
Regarding the rights to South Park episodes, Saatchi said, “We aren’t releasing the Showrunner commercially and aren’t in talks with the South Park people (though we are with several studios as well as creators to make original IP). But we used South Park only so that people have a comparison point between a super high-quality human show and an AI show. We will be announcing several original IP Simulations with attached AI TV shows later this year — a space exploration sci-fi simulation, a satire of Silicon Valley simulation and a detective simulation.”
I think the episode is really well done.
The show with Saatchi in it is certainly hilarious to Saatchi. And another one he created with me in it is also hilarious to me.
“Not only do I want to be able to create new episodes of shows that I love, I’d like to be in shows that I love. I’d like to be in Star Trek as an ensign or I’d like to be in South Park,” Saatchi said.
And the team also created an episode starring me, based on a similar text prompt, with my permission. Since the company doesn’t plan to release these episodes for profit, it doesn’t expect any trouble from the owners of South Park.
In fact, Saatchi thinks that entertainment companies could adopt this technology to give to fans, who can generate their own personalized content based on their favorite intellectual properties. Traditionally, Hollywood has looked down on such efforts and even sued fans. But Saatchi thinks times are changing and that this could be a new revenue stream.
Saatchi said the technology could be used to create a world where fans can put themselves in their favorite shows, create new episodes, and compete to create the best episodes ever made.
Fable is opening up the technology to AI researchers to explore how to create multi-agent simulations that power ongoing TV shows for the AIs within them. However, Saatchi emphasized that AI material should not be considered literary material and that AI Showrunner can help humans bring ideas to life, but is not a credible co-author on its own.
Saatchi acknowledged the release of this technology raises disturbing questions in the middle of the strikes by Hollywood writers and actors, and Saatchi said the threat of AI is real for Hollywood, and that writers need to gain clear assurances on the use of AI by Hollywood. In a disclaimer on the South Park episode, Fable noted that the celebrity voices are “generated poorly” and it’s for “research purposes only.”
Saatchi noted there are multiple facets to the tech. AI Showrunner technology could be used by studios to undermine artistic expression and also by writer-directors to take their original scripts to screen without huge budgets and teams.
The future of generative TV
Studios and creators will have to think hard about business models for the future of what Saatchi calls “generative TV,” where AI creates TV shows either for IP holders or creators/actors, or fans.
“When it’s their own IP, the creators come up with an IP, they build a simulation of that world, and they’re generating shows that they can monetize, that they can put that up on YouTube,” Saatchi said. “They can have a channel or, if it’s a really good show, then they can sell it to Cartoon Network and make money from it. So this can be a sort of platform for generative TV.”
Saatchi thinks IP owners can sell people a subscription to something like Disney+. And behind that paywall, people can create their own episodes with Disney characters. That could be a lot more satisfying to watch infinite episodes of a show, rather than watch a rerun 20 times.
But Saatchi said the fans probably won’t own the stuff that they create. They are simply paying for the privilege of being able to create, but they can’t share it outside the paywall or make money from it. That’s a bit harsh on fans, as fans of games like Fortnite can already create their own scenarios and make money from it if it becomes popular.
As part of their research, AI Showrunner is being used to develop animated versions of interpersonal drama, space battles, hospital crises and murder mysteries.
“I can imagine a world where there’s a kind of AI syndication, after like three seasons of a show. There is enough of a formula established. AI syndication takes over and the show just goes on forever,” Saatchi said. “Whether that’s the studio controlling it, or whether that’s people saying I could actually fix the final season of Game of Thrones or could give you whatever you want. You just give it a prompt, and it’ll generate. If you want to have an episode where Captain Picard goes to a diplomatic meeting with Klingons, it all goes wrong, blah, blah, blah, you can have that.”
Saatchi said you can imagine the AIs living in the form of The Truman Show, and every week a highlights episode is generated. Philipp Maas, a researcher at Fable, said, “A while back, South Park released an episode about what it meant to use chat GPT. That made us wonder if we could generate a comprehensive episode with AI using a virtual being showrunner to prompt multiple AI ‘systems.’”
The first Simulation AI is around an AI-generated South Park, where characters from the beloved show
live 24/7 and a weekly episode of highlights from the simulation are created. This was done as a research
project to show the possibilities of the technology and will not be commercialized.
“As artists and storytellers the discovery of just how effective AI has become was extremely disturbing and we wanted to share the results of our research in a non-commercial way in order that writers striking now are able to negotiate aggressively with the studios – the threat is real, and its important for Hollywood to slow down, that’s why we won’t be releasing this technology beyond demos to researchers and journalists,” Saatchi said.
The South Park fan Simulation, which runs 24/7, every week the AI Showrunner generates highlights of what happened that week in the form of an episode.
“South Park has always pushed the boundaries, and we know that this will be a challenging
subject,” Saatchi said. “The crude visual style of South Park lends itself to the current technological abilities of these systems, with more sophisticated animation and visual fidelity being possible in the future. South Park has always been self aware and self critical, and this subject matter is particular in its awareness of its own existence.”
He added, “The WGA strike correctly focuses on the idea that AI should not represent literary
material and also that AI cannot be used to reduce the number of writers – a freeze on studios using AI
seems sensible and setting the rules by which Hollywood should approach AI is vital. As filmmakers at
Fable from Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony we believe that cinema would be nothing without
Background on Fable and The Simulation
The South Park episodes and AI Showrunner are part of a larger effort by Fable. Earlier, Saatchi announced the company would create a world full of AI characters, who would be trained by real people to live their lives in a virtual world.
The ultimate goal of Fable’s The Simulation is to build AIs with human-level intelligence, and eventually to create artificial general intelligence (AGI), an AI that reaches and surpasses human intelligence and is ultimately a new lifeform.
The company originally started as a division of Oculus under Facebook (now Meta). It made virtual reality films and won its first Emmy for Henry. Fable also won an Emmy for the creation of Wolves in the Walls, a VR experience starring Lucy, a virtual being. Last week, Fable also won a Peabody for its AI virtual being Lucy.
The problem with Lucy is that she had no history, as she never lived a life, Saatchi said. She was a chatbot, but she couldn’t relate to other real people in conversations by saying something like, “I had a pet too and it died. So I know what it feels like.” With The Simulation, AI characters can live their lives.
Later in the year, Saatchi said the company will release the tools for The Simulation, the 3D world. People will be able to enter The Simulation, create simulations, and then Fable can create episodes automatically based on what has happened in the 3D world.
“What it does is solve a key problem for simulations, which is an infinite story,” Saatchi said. “We thought about Joseph Campbell and archetypes, trying to abstract some kind of baseline of what a story is. And I didn’t think that worked. So we kind of we figured out that TV is the best example of an infinite story.”