Researchers have taught a computer to do a better-than-expected job of predicting what characters on TV shows will do, just by forcing the machine to study 600 hours’ worth of YouTube videos.
The experiment could serve as a commentary on the state of research into artificial intelligence, or on the predictability of sitcom plots. It also calls to mind the scenes from countless science-fiction movies where the alien gets up to speed on human culture just by watching TV.
MIT’s Carl Vondrick and his colleagues are due to present the results of their experiment next week at the International Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Las Vegas.
The researchers developed predictive-vision software that uses machine learning to anticipate what actions should follow a given set of video frames. They grabbed thousands of videos showing humans greeting each other, and fed those videos into the algorithm.
To test how much the machine was learning about human behavior, the researchers presented the computer with single frames that showed meet-ups between characters on TV sitcoms it had never seen, including “The Big Bang Theory,” “Desperate Housewives” and “The Office.” Then they asked whether the characters would be hugging, kissing, shaking hands or exchanging high-fives one second afterward.