After the success of Bandersnatch, the episode from the critically-acclaimed Netflix series Black Mirror which lets its viewers interact with the character with the help of AI, the platform has rolled out a similar concept.
Titled Love, Death + Robots, is an animated anthology that spans multiple genres, exploring futuristic themes. The key here is that Netflix has taken user data, applied artificial intelligence and is shuffling the order of the episodes so that each viewer gets a unique and tailored viewer experience.
This move by Netflix is seen as a step taken towards customisation and personalisation, which is touted to be the future of video streaming.
While in Bandersnatch, by enabling AI, the viewers had the liberty to direct the outcome of the episodes based on the queries that the episodes asked the viewers, whereas in Love, Death + Robots, the makers are testing the waters by showcasing four different episodes to different viewers, and stringing the different episodes to make a coherent series.
Referring to the series as a love letter to nerds, the director Tim Miller and producer David Fincher, who previously collaborated for films like Deadpool (2016) and Gone Girl (2014), the duo claim that the new web series will be a feast for nerds right from its animation to the subjects and plot that each episode delves into.
Speaking about the new AI-concept unrolling, Fincher said that it frees the viewers from the traditional time limit, "We have to get rid of the 22-minute [length of a half-hour show with commercials] and 48-minute [length of an hour-long show with commercials] because there’s this Pavlovian response to this segmentation that to me seems anathema to storytelling. You want the story to be as long as it needs to be at maximum impact or entertainment value proposition," Finder said at a recent panel discussion.
Netflix Is Collecting Your Data
Pointing out that the platform is collecting its user data for driving personalisation, one of the viewers of the story who identifies himself as gay, claimed that the episode suggestion was made by the platform based on his sexual orientation.
"Just discovered the most INSANE thing. The ORDER OF THE EPISODES for Netflix's new series Love Death + Robots changes based on whether Netflix thinks you're gay or straight," the user tweeted.
The online video streaming platform is known to rely on big data and algorithms to identify user preferences and make a recommendation based on these data.
As of 2018, Netflix is believed to have close to 130 million worldwide subscribers, thus giving them access to a plethora of information, providing them with even information such as at what time are the users are likely to lose their interest in the show to what they are likely to watch. According to the latest report, the platform's recommendation system decides close to 80 per cent of what a person sees.
However, declining Twitter user's claim, Netflix said that the episode suggestions has nothing to do with gender, sexuality or race, "We've never had a show like Love Death + Robots before so we're trying something completely new: presenting four different episode orders. The version you're shown has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity — info we don't even have in the first place," Netflix tweeted.
So the response here seems a little disengenious. I assume it takes into account the content you've watched before, which I also assume is tagged with things like gender, ethnicity, and sexuality, which easily leads to the system making implicit assumptions about the user. https://t.co/jRglFK0OIN
— Lukas Thoms (@LukasThoms) March 19, 2019
Later, the user clarified that the platform's suggestions made based on random A/B test that doesn't involve any machine learning, "A final update: a friend I trust at Netflix looked into this, and apparently the episode order is just a 100% random A/B test that doesn't involve any ML. Identity-based recommendations are still a good discussion to have, in this case, it was just random!" he clarified at the end.
The Need For Ethical Algorithms
As the talk about the importance of ethical AI takes precedence across the world, at the core, ethicality of algorithms is what will ensure a transparent and clean AI which is removed of any bias.
"Algorithms impact whether and how individuals have access to social goods and rights, and how algorithms are developed and implemented within managerial decision making is critical for business ethics to understand and research. We can hold firms responsible for an algorithm’s acts even when the firm claims the algorithm is complicated and difficult to understand," a researcher notes in his paper titled Ethical Implications and Accountability of Algorithms.
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Akshaya Asokan works as a Technology Journalist at Analytics India Magazine. She has previously worked with IDG Media and The New Indian Express. When not writing, she can be seen either reading or staring at a flower.