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I Experienced a ‘South Park’ Episode via AI

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AI-generated content

Another typical day unfolded in South Park. As kids playfully teased each other on the playground, their parents were barely keeping their sanity in check in this small Colorado town. Meanwhile, there I was, a tech journalist alerting everyone from door to door about the forthcoming AI Armageddon. Contrary to what it might seem, I wasn’t really guest appearing on the acclaimed TV series; instead, I found myself immersed in an episode created entirely by the Showrunner AI model from The Simulation, the next level in VR studios after Fable.

The creation of the episode merely required my voice’s audio (captured during a conversation with Edward Saatchi, The Simulation’s CEO), an image, and a brief two-sentence storyline. Even though it wasn’t the most compelling South Park episode I’ve seen, I was taken aback by how engaging it turned out to be. The episode commences with my AI-generated character appearing at Sharon and Randy Marsh’s residence in the morning, alarming them about the looming AI rebellion. While Randy is fascinated, Sharon is irritated by my unexpected presence (both reactions were predefined in the original script).

“My AI persona announces, “AI is pervading every facet of our existence. They are in our vehicles, our smartphones… and even our toasters.”

Randy retorts, “Our toasters, really? I always had a hunch that the little devil was up to no good.”

Admittedly, it’s not an exquisitely crafted gag, yet it managed to amuse me. Moreover, it was fascinating to see how effortlessly Showrunner AI could orchestrate such an interaction. Viewing this episode underscored the capability of generative AI to create engaging content (certainly superior to the AI Seinfeld project), intensifying my concerns about AI’s influence on the media.

The current strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA union members, seeking better residual pay and safeguards against potential AI misuse, emphasizes these fears. A tool like Showrunner AI, with its capacity to generate quality content with minimal effort, poses a threat to creators worldwide. This tension regarding AI-generated content is also a key plot in the sample South Park episode, “Westland Chronicles.”

The Simulation

Saatchi expressed uncertainty about releasing Showrunner AI at this point in an email exchange, “Releasing it might be a misstep, I can’t say for sure,” he shared. “I’d feel uneasy if we were aiming to be ‘the AI TV studio’ and bragging about making shows without any staff. We’re trying to build a simulation and we need an endless supply of stories for that.”

He added: “Now is the time, during the biggest strike in six decades, before AI’s full impact is felt, to negotiate robust protections for writers and actors against producers’ use of AI — negotiating now ensures these tools are only in the hands of artists and creators, and not producers looking to emulate Griffin Mill from Robert Altman’s The Player.”

(This character notably said, “I was just pondering how intriguing it would be to exclude the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we have something.”)

Building intelligent characters isn’t a novel concept for Saatchi. Back in 2018, we discussed Fable Studio’s VR adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Wall, featuring an interactive character named Lucy. Saatchi believed even then that AI-enabled entities held greater promise than VR storytelling as such. Today, thanks to the surge in generative AI models, he can make that a reality.

The Simulation

Saatchi’s ambition with The Simulation is encapsulated in its name: He aims to generate character simulations living their lives in specified settings, akin to The Truman Show. Showrunner AI can then distill this content into episodic summaries. Like many in the AI industry, Saatchi aspires to develop AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, “an AI that matches and surpasses human intelligence and eventually becomes a new life form.”

While several AI experts question AGI’s feasibility, Showrunner might still prove to be a potent tool. However, as with any tool, it could be employed for constructive or harmful purposes. Saatchi envisages its utility for creators to design their shows on a small budget, but he also acknowledges its potential misuse by studios to “compromise artistic expression.”

The Simulation

My experience of featuring in a South Park episode made me more apprehensive than optimistic. The technology isn’t flawless yet — my voice sometimes comes off as excessively mechanical, and characters mispronounce my name almost every time — but it’s nearing perfection. Saatchi and his team, including AI researcher Philipp Maas, who devised the South Park simulation, still review every episode for coherence. However, given the unresolved Hollywood union strikes, it’s hard not to see some studios eyeing this tool as a possible lifeline.

“We have no plans for a commercial release of Showrunner and are not in discussions with the South Park creators (although we are engaging with several studios about their intellectual properties, as well as with creators about original intellectual property), we only used South Park as a benchmark for comparing a high-quality human show and an AI-produced show,” Saatchi stated. “If Showrunner was ever permitted to be used with an intellectual property (allowing fans to create their episodes), we believe all the profits should go to the intellectual property holders — these are merely remixes, after all!”

At present, The Simulation is developing showrunners around other animated ideas, like a space exploration series, and a satirical take on Silicon Valley titled “Exit Valley.” Currently, the technology is incapable of producing live-action content. The company is also publishing a research paper elucidating how its showrunner AI technology operates, hoping to inspire more AI developers to build on it.

The most arresting aspect of my South Park episode was how much it resembled an actual episode of the series. Over a span of five minutes, I visited the local school, where all the kids proceeded to mock me. One wisely chastised me for exaggerating AI apocalypse claims while I simultaneously warned them about clickbait. By the conclusion, I was curious to see more, which was the most unsettling part.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about AI-generated content

What is the Showrunner AI model from The Simulation?

The Showrunner AI model from The Simulation is a technology capable of creating engaging content such as episodes of a TV show using input such as a person’s voice, image, and a brief storyline.

How was the tech journalist put into a ‘South Park’ episode?

The journalist was inserted into a ‘South Park’ episode entirely produced by the Showrunner AI model. This required an audio recording of the journalist’s voice, a photo, and a two-sentence prompt to create the episode.

What is Edward Saatchi’s goal with The Simulation?

Edward Saatchi’s goal with The Simulation is to create simulations of characters living their lives in specific environments, similar to The Truman Show. He eventually wants to develop Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), an AI that surpasses human intelligence and becomes a new life form.

How could the Showrunner AI model affect the media industry?

Showrunner AI model, with its capacity to generate engaging content with minimal effort, poses potential threats and opportunities to the media industry. It could potentially undermine artistic expression, but also enable creators to build their own shows without a large budget.

What are the concerns regarding the release of the Showrunner AI?

Concerns revolve around the potential misuse of such technology by studios to compromise artistic expression and the implications it might have for writers and actors, especially in the context of ongoing union strikes demanding better pay and protection against AI exploitation.

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CheeryCharli July 18, 2023 - 8:34 pm

This is fascinating, but I hope the AI can’t take over the fun and creativity of human writers. I mean thats whats all about right?

JakeHenderson July 18, 2023 - 10:11 pm

Whoa! AIs are really taking over everything, huh? Freaks me out a bit…

RealistDawn July 19, 2023 - 2:05 am

I mean it’s neat and all but have you ever heard an AI talk? sounds more like a speak-n-spell than a person.

TechnoBuff July 19, 2023 - 5:30 am

This is the future, people! AI will change the way we create and consume media.

Mindy94 July 19, 2023 - 6:43 am

This is so cool, I wish I could star in a south park episode lol

MarkTheSkeptic July 19, 2023 - 2:53 pm

Honestly? Seems overhyped. Bet the episode wasn’t even that good, just a tech gimmick.

Screenwriter_Joe July 19, 2023 - 6:01 pm

As a writer, this is actually kinda scary. What happens to our jobs when AI can do it all?

VRfanatic July 19, 2023 - 6:21 pm

Saatchi’s at it again, first with VR now this. Can’t wait to see what’s next!


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