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Artificial Intelligence - Episode 4

Host: Bradley Metrock (CEO, Score Publishing)

Guest: Monica Landers, CEO, Storyfit

Duration: 19 minutes, 1 second

Podcast Links:

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YouTube (+ closed captioning)



Bradley Metrock: [00:00:13] Hi, and welcome back to Artificial Intelligence, the VoiceFirst.FM show where we examine all things related to AI, and especially how they touch the rapidly growing realm of voice-first technology. This episode will kick off a run of another three or four episodes leading up to the summer. We hope you that you enjoy them. My name is Bradley Metrock. I'm CEO of a company called Score Publishing based here in Nashville, Tennessee. Our guest today is Monica Landers. Monica, say hello.


Monica Landers: [00:00:48] Hello. Thanks for having me.


Bradley Metrock: [00:00:49] Thank you for joining us. Monica Landers is CEO of a company called StoryFit. Monica, what is StoryFit?


Monica Landers: [00:00:59] StoryFit is an AI company. We use AI to deeply understand movie scripts and books, and then we deliver analytics . It comes with marketing recommendations, and a whole host of useful analytics both to movie studios and book publishers.


Bradley Metrock: [00:01:15] So let's dive a little deeper with that, because it's super fascinating what you're doing with this technology and your approach to meet. You apply AI to media essentially. So walk us through a little bit....a company that is producing a full length film or a short film or a company that's got a book that it's going to publish, it's acquired the rights for, it's thinking about acquiring the rights for, any of the above can come to StoryFit. And they say, "Help us understand what we need to be doing with this content based on your artificial intelligence, your platform." Walk us through the mechanics of how it works.


Monica Landers: [00:02:06] Yeah, I will. I think I'll start back even more broadly at one of the questions that I run into first is this: Hold on a minute. We're talking about a creative work. Like, this is a person's story that is going to be consumed by human beings. Like when we read a book or go to a movie, it's not because we're looking for data insights, right? We're going to learn or enjoy or experience. And so that's one of the first things that I get when we first launch even within the industry, or just from the general public is, wait a second, you're talking about AI. We're talking about creative industries. And so at the very base of it is, that books and movies are....they hold cultural weight, right? But they're data. So they're different than the consumer data. But still imagine, text has all these inherent rules and formations, and think of how a movie script is written. There's rules about the settings and the dialogue. So once you have a set of rules or a set of expectations, and we can measure that by looking at data, then you can start looking for deviations and changes. It's trying to figure out, does this change in the way a character speaks mean they're more relatable or less relatable? Does this mean that this type of character appeals to this audience or a different audience? Is this the type of story that appeals to mass audience, and there you have your big blockbuster or your hit, or is this the kind of story arc that appeals to niche audiences, and if so, which niche? And so you're right that there's several stages of story development, whether it's in just the early acquisition and then the development....and this is true of movies or books right. And then ultimately, once it's created, it's got to reach the audience. So each of these steps actually benefit from the same data, the data that that we're able to provide. We're helping creatives have some kind of firm footing in their decision making. Because this is a tricky job, right?


Monica Landers: They're not kidding when they say they're using their gut to make decisions, and that's because our gut's pretty smart too, right? We have a lot of information built in from experience about what works and what doesn't. So AI helps feed back into that, and say, "Look. We've just looked at 2,000 movies and tens of thousands of characters and actually we're seeing exactly what what you're seeing." Then we like to narrow it down even more. We just heard from a studio last week that was interesting, because they've already produced this movie and it's going to release this year. And so they already have audience feedback, but they also sent it to us, for our analytics and so we had a lot of really positive things that we noted in the movie, and a couple of negatives. And from a company you hate to deliver that, because the studio's already invested in it. But what was super interesting to me is some of the feedback that we gave to the script. We said , "You can see visually that this is a really slow part. You've got a dialogue drop, you've got you've got an action drop here, and look, you've got some real sudden changes here. An emotion like this can be jarring." And it was exactly what their viewers had told them. So I think to me, to know that AI can recognize something in a movie script before it's even produced, that thousands, I'm sorry, millions of dollars later a movie audience was able to recognize as well.


Bradley Metrock: [00:05:34] Yeah, this is pretty fascinating stuff that you're doing, and I love the conflict, to be honest....I think that's the word I'm looking for. The conflict of a content creator or a publisher of a film house or a book publisher having to look itself in the mirror....or an author, or a screenwriter, or whoever....having to use a technology like this and use computers, machine learning, AI, whatever you want to call it, to essentially look in the mirror, and learn new things about yourself and what you've put together and like anyone looking in the mirror, you may not always like what you see. (all laugh)


Monica Landers: [00:06:26] Yeah. Well, I love what you just said too, because when you mentioned conflict, of course conflict is what drives every story. So we actually measure conflict, and we run into it, too. So I hope that in this case, that conflict is going to be good for AI's story as well, because there is something that I sense that we run into more in this particular industry than you might in other industries of just trying to bridge that hurdle between the wait a second this is creative versus this is machine driven. And so we work really hard to translate the machine insights into something that matters, right? Because yes, one of the tens of thousands of things that we measure is how many adjectives are in the story. Well, nobody needs to hear that, right? If you've just written a book, you don't want the feedback , "Well, there are a lot of adjectives." But when that's put together with other hundreds of measurements, it starts to give you insight into maybe the style of writing, or the depth of writing, or the creativeness. And so that's what we're careful to do, to avoid some of the conflicts that can crop up is help to articulate these very rule-based, numbers-based insights into something that's meaningful, that someone can take action on, and helpful action on.


Bradley Metrock: [00:07:48] The other thing that intrigues me about what you're doing is, if you study literature, you know that we have a lot of controversial works in our past. You look at classic literature, and it doesn't take you a whole long time to find things that people have written that do not sit well in our hyper-politically correct culture, and I think the challenge for you, and the thing that I find very interesting about what you're doing is that you're going to be presented with situations, and we spoke a little bit about this when we met at the London Book Fair....the entire existence of StoryFit is going to be defined by situation after situation after situation where a company is having to decide....a customer or a client of yours is having to decide, what are we going to ask your AI for? How are we going to limit the information coming back so as not to cloud our judgment and to get in the way of the storytelling? What is the actionable part of this versus what is the stuff we ought to just get out of the way, even if it is a little bit controversial. I'm very intrigued by the hornet's nest of issues that this potentially opens, and then once a publisher gets through that hornet's nest of issues, how much better off they would be for going through that process?


Monica Landers: [00:09:20] Part of that's why we always stress....and you hear this from a lot of directions now, is the idea of augmented intelligence, is that there still has to be, I think.... for this to to have a really good end result, is that human decision making, and that's where you say the book that's amazing but breaks so many rules that it doesn't score well on some of our measurements. What I always recommend is....we're doing these insights so you's not a yes/no, you look at it and say, "Wait a second. Do I buy this or do I see why?" And we delivered some what could have been interpreted as bad results on a book. This was a while back. And I wondered about it, and I thought, "Well, how is this going to go over?" I had this great response because the guy said, "Great! This is exactly what we wanted. We are going after this niche this way. This is what we wanted. This is what we see in the book too." I mean that kind of gets to what you're saying is you don't want to's almost a misinterpretation of analytics and insights to think that they're determining your path. They more should be informing the decision making. Because we have to keep taking risks. I mean , that's part of like media and entertainment and growth, leading the way towards risk taking. But this just helps you do it with more knowing. You're like, "Yep, it's not just me that thinks this is an oddly-paced movie or book. It really is! It's measurably off-paced." But this is what we want to go for. This is the jarring impact we want to have. So I think that's the most intelligent way to use the information.


Bradley Metrock: [00:10:58] That's really well said. Yeah. And hopefully that is the way that this is deployed, and it essentially has to be for companies to take full advantage of it. Let's go back a step and tell us how someone arrives at creating a company like StoryFit. Share with us a little bit about your very interesting background, and how you got to this point.


Monica Landers: [00:11:21] Well, I started and still feel it in my blood as a journalist, and I was a producer for ABC News and Good Morning America, really covering the breaking news. And so at the core of that, is finding the story, right? It was finding the story and figuring out how you're going to share it in a way that's going to resonate and is going to connect to the viewer. Part of that is the DNA in StoryFit as well and I think exists in everybody in the company with this love of the story being the core, and then figuring out the medium and the length and all that is second to what's at the very core of what we're doing. I went on then through startups and other media and content companies and spent a long time awash in the middle of big data. And so I think, "To me, this is really the transition that we're making." And I bet you're having conversations with a lot of people saying the same thing is, we all do big data for a while, but we just didn't have the processing power available to ask all the questions. So to me, AI is just that next transition from having just gobs and gobs of data to look through and try and make sense of, to now the power to really ask very specific questions about this data and get usable insights. And so my team is just this wonderful mix of movie nerds and very smart literature majors and data scientists that can bring all of this together, the smart data with the really smart questions. And that's what has me most excited about the future of AI, is just all the interesting stories we're now able to tell from big data.


Bradley Metrock: [00:13:04] A lot of people....and we see this with voice assistants and a lot of the stuff we do like with some of the conferences we do and some of the content we put together with VoiceFirst.FM. There is a lot of fear of artificial intelligence, and there's fear of all this new technology, these smart speakers and these voice assistants, and the fear goes well beyond just privacy and security. I'm delving into just our human nature of not wanting to change and not wanting to embrace new types of technology that eventually will make our lives much more fruitful and better and more accessible. You're obviously very involved with technology and have been for a long time. You're super educated and articulate. What concerns a person like you, if anything, about this new era of artificial intelligence and machine learning that we're about to find ourselves in?


Monica Landers: [00:14:06] Well if you know anything about entrepreneurs they tend to be super optimistic, because otherwise we're crazy to start companies like this, right? So I, across all areas, lean towards the optimism. I think, actually, that people are amazing and that humanity is amazing and we continue to get smarter but also better. And so that's where I put my faith, in the growth of AI, is that despite sometimes what feels like overwhelming bad news. I think that on the whole, we're building some amazing smart things. So I'm just about as optimistic as you can be, and I read and I hear all the negatives and the bad things that can happen. But that's not what I've been seeing in our work and in the people that I'm working with. So I think that AI has the ability to really discover....I talk about it, and I know you do, in medicine and all the things that can happen through being able to sift through all this data. I'm super excited about the future of it and I love the idea of applying it right back into something. You've got amazing things that are happening in medicine. But I love applying it to entertainment, too, because I think that's part of who we are as people, our ability to be entertained and hear wonderful stories that and experience others' lives through media I think is just a real gift. And so I'm hopeful that AI can contribute in that area towards actual greater creativity as well.


Bradley Metrock: [00:15:36] That's well put. And I think that's a theme that we're going to see unfold over the next few years. And it's one reason why I'm so excited about Digital Book World, where Monica Landers will be part of the program for Digital Book World 2018 taking place October 2nd thru the 4th here in Nashville, Tennessee at the Music City Center. Don't miss that. The idea of what is a book? And we got all this technology around us, and it's challenging our notions of storytelling, and it's challenging our notions of what is the proper medium to marry with this story or that story or this narrative or this thing over here, this experience over here. There's all these unsettled and unanswered questions around publishing and technology that you've got a front row seat with what you're doing. We've got a front row seat with what we're doing. It's going to be fun to watch. And I think you just sort of articulated a lot of it with what you just said, but the bottom line of it all, which there always is a bottom line. Fantastic stories and fantastic experiences are going to shape more human lives than they ever have before. You follow the arc of publishing, you know very well that publishing has been defined over human history as something that has been available to only a very few people and it's been defined by gatekeepers at every turn and through technology, we have managed to shed ourselves of a lot of those. And now we're getting into an era where technology can deliver interactive, multilayered, multifaceted experiences to the different people. I'm excited about it, Monica, I think what you're doing is phenomenal, and it's just one aspect of many of the future we're about to find ourselves in.


Monica Landers: [00:17:39] You must be seeing this too with DBW. We've been around three years, and it's night and day talking to publishers now than when we first launched. And so I see a real growth and deeper understanding. And a lot of times I tell them that some of these phrases that seem over our head, that we're not familiar with AI. I bet they'll just be rolling off our tongues in five years. Any publisher will be able to talk about AI and how to use it five years from now. And right now it's still new, but that's still better from several years ago, when it was scary. So I can see the steps that we're making. I know that you're working with DBW. I think that's all very exciting.


Bradley Metrock: [00:18:18] Thank you for giving us this time. Thank you for sharing not just your time but your insight with me and the audience as well.


Monica Landers: [00:18:24] Oh, you're so welcome.


Bradley Metrock: [00:18:25] For Artificial Intelligence Episode 4, thank you for listening. And until next time.

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