“Look what the computer did” — what’s the attraction of AI video?

What’s the attraction of AI video? It’s a good question because — after all — we’re in the business of attractions.

I visited Los Angeles a few years ago to catch up with a family member and colleagues working in the screen industry. Got invited to Soho House. Met a bunch of TV and film people. And went to the beach.

On Santa Monica pier I saw a stall where, for a few dollars, someone writes your name on a grain of rice. And I realised something. That stallholder, and the industry folks I’d met, were fundamentally in the same business of attracting people’s scarce leisure time and scarcer leisure money.

Open AI’s Sora videos draw attention because ‘Look what the computer did’ is a compelling attraction. The tech behind it is a feat of software engineering, and I can imagine it integrated into software in useful ways, to be used by humans. However, I’m seeing people rush to predict that the technology will replace humans and generate entire shows, films, and games. I don’t like the idea of that. But the tech is advancing fast. So, yes, it probably will be able to generate things in those shapes in years to come. But I doubt that its standalone generative outputs will be compelling attractions in the market beyond ‘Look what our computer did’.

I’m not saying that ‘Look what our computer did’ isn’t an interesting proposition. When Sora outputs started to appear on my TikTok feed, I felt compelled to watch them. But a few weeks into Sora’s existence, I’m skipping past those prompt-and-response videos. It’s a cool trick, but I’ve seen it already. How many times do you need your name written on a grain of rice?

Last night, I saw Letters Live at the Royal Albert Hall. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an event where celebrities (always a surprise who they are) read remarkable letters from the archives. The venue was packed. People had bought tickets and travelled into central London on a weeknight, not knowing what they’d be served, but trusting that whatever it was would be powerful.

Damian Lewis walked out and read a letter, Emma Corrin read a letter, and even the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner read a letter. Emeli Sandé walked on stage to play and sing, as did Birdy. And Benedict Cumberbatch read Navalny’s last letter from jail. There were more surprise actors, musicians, delights, laughs, and tears. At the end: applause, standing ovation, a long contented journey home.

Now that’s an attraction.
I don’t think ‘look what the computer did’ can compete at that level.