AI remedy for the Writers Guild strike?

The Writers Guild of America strike worries you? You’re afraid that you’ll never get to watch your favorite TV series again and all you’ve got left is “Dynasty” or “Little House on the Prairie”? Well, maybe there is hope!

If you believe Alex Hung, author of this article, it should be possible to develop a software program which would generate TV scripts based on previous episodes. At first the scripts would probably not very good, but in time it should get better. It could particularly work for shows such as Law & Order, CSI or Numbers (great series by the way), where almost everything stays the same from episode to episode with only minor plot device differences in between.

“What we need”, Alex Hung writes, “are:
-Characters in the series and their attributes (gender, personality, etc.)
-Tons of previous scripts
-The series formula, e.g. The new clue to solve the case between minutes 39 and 40 in Law & Order, or CSI.
-A genetic algorithm that learns the characteristic of the series through all the existing episodes, e.g. how each character behaves, their favorite catchphrases, and how the general plot line evolves. For many shows, just the catchphrase would suffice.
-A software bot to trawl the net for bizarre news as seed to generate new stories”.

Although the idea seems interesting, maybe it would be better – and cheaper – to simply hire budding writers? C’mon, the viewers are waiting!

Software can grade handwritten essays

Researchers at the University of Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences say they have created software that allows computers to grade students essays.

The scientists have been working with their colleagues in UB's Graduate School of Education to develop a computational tool which dramatically reduces the time it takes to grade children's handwritten essays. "This is the very first attempt at scoring hand written essays by machine," said UB Professor Sargur Srihari. "It learns from examples and tries to score these essays from what it has learned".

The research focused on handwritten essays obtained from 8th graders in the Buffalo Public Schools who responded to this question from a New York State English Language Arts exam: “How was Martha Washington’s role as First Lady different from that of Eleanor Roosevelt?”. Papers were graded on a scale of 0-6. 300 essays were scored by humans, and 96 by computers. According to researchers, in 70% of cases, the computer graded essays within one point of a human grader.

“We wanted to see whether automated handwriting-recognition capabilities can be used to read children’s handwriting, which is essentially uncharted territory”, said Professor Srihari. “Then we took it one step further to see if we could get computers to score these essays like human examiners. It surprised us that we were able to do as well as we did, especially since this was our first attempt”, he added.

Handwritten essays are an important part of every standardized reading comprehension test given in every state. Grading them, however, requires many hours of work by human examiners, so if it could be properly done by a computer, examiners should be more than happy.

Habbo and Paramount sell virtual movie merchandise

Habbo, a global, teen-aimed virtual world where you can meet and make friends, has signed a deal with Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment to create virtual merchandise based on three of its recent movies. Now Habbo users will be able to buy accessories for their avatars, virtual furniture and other movie paraphernalia based on the upcoming “Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Beowulf” (this one’s for Angelina Jolie’s fans) and “Mean Girls” (for Lindsay Lohan’s). The partnership, which is limited to the U.S. and Canada, leaves open the opportunity to add more films as time goes on.

Habbo has already created virtual environments for brands such as Burger King and Target, and has featured guest appearances by various music artists, including Pink. As Teemu Huuhtanen, EVP, Habbo business and President, North America, said, the virtual world’s users demand that their community reflect today’s real world pop culture entertainment landscape. Which is great for Paramount, as the deal with Habbo allows them to “access Habbo’s exceptional virtual community and built-in audience base where users can extend and enhance the film experience with a suite of themed-virtual goods”.

The Finland-based Sulake, which has created Habbo worlds in 31 countries, claims to reach 1.8 million teenagers in the U.S. and 8 million globally. Most are teens aged 13 to 16. Habbo inhabitants’ avatars can gather in the Habbo Hotel, as well as their own virtual homes. In addition, a Web-based version of Habbo serves as a social networking/instant messaging platform for members.