AUNTIE BEEB is embracing the AI revolution with two nights of programming generated by a neural network offering a juxtaposition between bleeding edge tech and vintage television.
Eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted 'BBC 4.1 - Artificial Intelligence TV' has been trailing for a couple of weeks, assuring viewers they can 'Relax - It's going to be fine'. (If you haven't, we've embedded it at the end of this article).
Alongside programming about AI itself, 'Made by Machine: When AI met The Archive' will show a range of classic clips from over 250,000 shows since 1953, selected by an AI, trained to know what BBC Four is, what it shows and what its viewers will like.
The experimental programming has unearthed some 'hidden gems' that haven't been seen in years, and which manual research alone would have taken hundreds of hours of research - if indeed they were found at all.
The slight elephant in the room is that, given that the BBC recycled and junked many master tapes during the 1970s and 1980s, some of the suggestions may no longer exist.
Rather, the AI has created a shortlist, which BBC researchers have used as the basis to start their physical archive search.
The results will be presented by Dr Hannah Fry, and a ‘virtual co-host' as a demonstration of how the technology, created by BBC R&D, works. The AI has also edited together the clips.
A separate show 'The Joy of AI' will see Professor Jim Al Khalili following the project, its creation and how it all works.
BBC 4.1 comes hot on the heels of similar tech by IBM at this year's Wimbledon to edit together highlights packages far faster than a human team ever could.
BBC researchers are working with eight universities to explore possibilities for AI within the BBC's offering.
Cassian Harrison, channel editor at BBC Four, enthuses: "AI and Machine Learning sit at the centre of a huge ongoing debate. With its brief to experiment, BBC Four is grasping the nettle by the hand with this bold experiment to investigate just how AI might open up new creative opportunities.
"In collaboration with the BBC's world-beating R&D department, AI TV will explore the cutting edge of this new technology and demonstrate just how AI and Machine Learning might inform and influence programme-making and scheduling, while also resurfacing some gems from the BBC Four archive along the way. It's telly Jim, but not as we know it..."
There are four clip sequences to demonstrate the technology. The first shows the AI learning how to identify the attributes of a scene, and create a sequence in a logical order with some sense of narrative.
The second uses the subtitle files of programmes to create a sequence linked by words, topics and themes.
The third looks for ‘high energy' clips where there's lots of action and alternates them with ‘low energy' scenes. This might make for a slightly carsick experience, but no worse than the new Skype UI.
The fourth sequence combines all its learned to create a new piece of telly.
With many BBC researchers too young to remember much of the millions of hours of archive, the AI creates a 'fresh pair of eyes' bringing back unseen footage which can then be reused either in clips or made available in their entirety.
With BBC iPlayer seeking to become a Netflix rival, these hidden gems could prove a low-cost USP for unique content.
George Wright, head of Internet Research and Future Services at BBC R&D, explains: "Helping BBC Four scour the BBC's vast archives more efficiently is exactly why we're developing this kind of AI. It can find very specific pieces of content in large libraries of programmes, which has massive benefits for BBC programme-makers and audiences.
"BBC Four's experimental night of programming is a great example of this, and Made by machine: When AI met the archive gives people an unprecedented look under the hood."
BBC 4.1 will take over human BBC Four tonight (4th September) and continuing tomorrow. μ
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