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Should video producers worry about AI?

Laura Taflinger

Digital content producer, BBC Academy

2017 is already looking like the year of Artificial Intelligence. While AI-powered “virtual assistants” like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant are finding their way into homes, AI is also impacting the world of work – replacing workers in some cases and helping them do their jobs in others.

The world’s largest hedge fund is working on replacing managers with AI, while a Japanese company has just replaced 34 office staff with a system based on IBM’s Watson, “a cognitive technology that can think like a human”. Watson is also helping doctors diagnose rare diseases and suggest cancer treatments.

The media is not being left out. Amateur video producers are offered cameras like Graava that can identify and edit clips in-camera; editing apps like Shred, Animoto and Magisto use AI to edit your footage after the shoot.

But what does AI mean for professional media and production? Here are just some of the examples of how AI is entering our world: 

  • Wibbitz is an app that automatically turns a news story from text into video and even provides a robot narrator.
  • Last summer Watson edited a movie trailer – or rather, ‘watched’ all the movie’s scenes that had been tagged with various emotions and categories, and then selected 10 shots. They were then edited by a human being.
  • AI programs have directed a music video - analysing lyrics, coming up with a script and treatment, choosing an actor and directing drones. The band in question hasn’t allowed the video to be shown, which doesn’t bode well.
  • Copy editors for magazines and newspapers are losing their jobs in the face of software that is not yet capable of demanding to be paid.  
  • Dextro, Metamind and Clarifai are computer vision companies using AI to identify and tag online videos, to help journalists find relevant and newsworthy user-generated content on social media.
  • Facebook is exploring how AI can analyse videos to help users find content they’re interested in.
  • Twitter is developing an AI to identify what’s happening in live videos, to provide real-time recommendations to users.
  • Vidhance is working on a cloud-based AI that would recognise motion and track objects from multiple video streams, potentially replacing  video producers for live events such as sports.

It looks like video production is the area where AI is making the most rapid progress. Advocates say it will simply automate the drudge work leaving the humans more time to spend on creative judgements. So are jobs safe?

IBM’s John Smith told Broadcast magazine that “a computer is incredibly powerful at parsing large repositories of data or ‘watching’ hundreds of hours of video and distilling that down to a smaller set of things, while the editor brings a unique set of skills that AI cannot replicate at this time.”

And Magisto’s CEO Oren Boiman told Techonomy reassuringly that “disruptive technologies often start from the root, not with high-end users. The first lousy digital cameras were used by consumers …We cannot yet address the high end needs of professional video editors and brands.”

Notice the phrases “at this time” and “cannot yet address”. I’m not convinced. After all, just because the technology isn’t quite there yet, that doesn’t mean it won’t be better and far more widely used in another few years.

NESTA, in their 2015 report Creativity vs. Robots, assigned ‘motion picture, video and television programme post-production activities’ with ‘only’ a 19.8% probability of being computerised (how did they work that out so accurately?), and concluded that “human labour still holds the comparative advantage in creative work, involving valued originality, and is likely to continue to do so for some time yet.”

Good news! But as a video editor, I suspect I’m not as irreplaceable as I’d like to think.

As we’ve seen, even writing isn’t beyond the scope of AI - but, for the moment,  BBC Academy blogs are still written by real human beings.