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Morgan movie trailer
IBM’s Watson AI software selected creepy moments for a trailer touting the AI thriller “Morgan,” including this close-up of the Morgan AI. How meta! (Credit: 20th Century Fox / IBM)

Experts may reassure us that artificial intelligence won’t take over the world anytime soon – but they just might invade the multiplex.

At least that’s the plot developing at IBM, where the Watson artificial-intelligence team programmed a computer to come up with a scary trailer for “Morgan,” a thriller about a genetically modified, AI-enhanced super-human.

GeekWire’s crack team of movie critics gave “Morgan” an average grade of C – but I have to say Watson’s trailer gave me the creeps. Maybe it’s the way short cuts are spliced together to create a sense of ominousness without revealing what the heck is going on. Maybe it’s the eerie music. Or maybe it’s just knowing that a faceless piece of software helped create it.

In a blog posting, John R. Smith of IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center explains how it was done.

First, the Watson research team had the software analyze 100 trailers from other horror movies. The AI used statistical methods to tag scenes within each trailer, drawing upon labels from a list of 24 emotions and 22,000 scene categories. The software also analyzed the musical score, character voices and scene composition, rating them on a scariness scale.

“The system now ‘understands’ the types of scenes that categorically fit into the structure of a suspense/horror movie trailer,” Smith said.

The acid test came when the entire “Morgan” movie was fed into the software system. Watson selected the top 10 scenes for a horror-movie trailer, and then it was up to a human filmmaker at IBM to put together those scenes in a dramatic way and add a soundtrack.

One of Watson’s selected scenes was left out because it didn’t fit the human’s storytelling approach. “Even Watson sometimes ends up with footage on the cutting room floor!” Smith said.

The entire process took about 24 hours, compared to the typical 10- to 30-day process for creating a movie trailer.

There’s one thing that’s missing from the “Morgan” AI trailer: an ominous voiceover. The dialogue created by AI screenwriters can come across as hilariously stilted, as evidenced by this year’s AI-scripted short film, “Sunspring.”

But there may come an evening when you’re sitting in a movie theater, and the lights go down, and you hear a computer-generated voice boom through the speakers, saying, “In a world …”

When that happens … run like hell.

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