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Slaves to the Algorithm

c/o Arts & Letters Daily...

The Economist/Intelligent Life: Slaves to the Algorithm, by Tom Whipple
When Meaney is given a job by a studio, the first thing he does is quantify thousands of factors, drawn from the script. Are there clear bad guys? How much empathy is there with the protagonist? Is there a sidekick? The complex interplay of these factors is then compared by the computer to their interplay in previous films, with known box-office takings. The last calculation is what it expects the film to make. In 83% of cases, this guess turns out to be within $10m of the total. Meaney, to all intents and purposes, has an algorithm that judges the value—or at least the earning power—of art.

To explain how, he shows me a two-dimensional representation: a grid in which each column is an input, each row a film. "Curiously," Meaney says, "if we block this column…" With one hand, he obliterates the input labelled "star", casually rendering everyone from Clooney to Cruise, Damon to De Niro, an irrelevancy. "In almost every case, it makes no difference to the money column."

"For me that’s interesting. The first time I saw that I said to the mathematician, ‘You’ve got to change your program—this is wrong.’ He said, ‘I couldn’t care less—it’s the numbers.’" There are four exceptions to his rules. If you hire Will Smith, Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, you seem to make a return. The fourth? As far as Epagogix can tell, there is an actress, one of the biggest names in the business, who is actually a negative influence on a film. "It’s very sad for her," he says. But hers is a name he cannot reveal.

-The Gneech



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 13th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
It encourages to know, or at least to believe, that no matter how people will try to come up with a formula for what art will be commercially successful (books, movies, video games, television, whatever), and no matter how successful that formula actually winds up being, there will always be people who create what they want to create, because they want to create it, and try to find an audience that will appreciate it.

Also, thanks, Gneech, for your diligence in finding and sharing interesting things.
Jun. 14th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
Pleased of be of service. :)

Jun. 15th, 2013 11:07 pm (UTC)
I think figuring out the algorithm usually breaks it, so in ten years I bet the same one won't work any more. :)
Jun. 13th, 2013 08:57 pm (UTC)

The last bit makes me wonder if Voldemort had a sex change.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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