November 16, 2015 by katie
I was asked to speak about our REACT-funded project for 5 minutes as part of the Sitting Room Sessions at the Private View of REACT’s excellent ‘The Rooms’ festival in early November 2015.
Here is the text of the talk (minus the live asides of course, which made it a bit less dry!):
“I’m going to leave it actually.
Yes, its a great idea.
Yes, it seems there would be a market for it. The Funeral industry would be the most obvious place to start.
Yes, no-ones doing it yet, well they’ve started trying in a way, but their attempts are pretty poor quality, most people would agree with that.
Yes, I think there would be quite a lot of avenues to pursue in terms of start-up support and finance.
So, yes, I thought of it, I looked into the feasibility of it, I’ve got ideas about how it could work, what it could look like, who the partners and customers might be. I’ve even worked with people to explore exactly how we could produce it.
But I’m going to leave it there. I’m not going to take it forward.
These aren’t words I use a lot.
In fact, it took me a while to make the decision.
At first it definitely felt like a failure.
But now I know it was the best decision.
A positive exit from the project.
Better to say a considered no, than struggle on with something against your better judgement out of some kind of misplaced sense of duty, until it grinds to a bitter and messy halt. (a bit of melodrama there… did I mention I’m a theatre maker…)
In the Spring of 2014, with REACT Feasibility funding, I undertook research into the feasibility of building a software engine that automatically creates a video life story from an individual’s social media content. The project was called Protagonist.
Protagonist was an attempt to make sense of our vast stashes of personal data online in a human, emotional, narrative way. Using their own social media content, we wanted to create a short film memoir of an individual – with the output feeling meaningful and personalised. And we wanted to see if we could create this using an automated process.
Our ambition was that the Protagonist service would be a commercial, stand-alone, direct-to-consumer product.
I found that the construction of narrative from online data poses an extremely complex computing problem. Who knew?! Well I didn’t. As someone from an arts background its sometimes tricky to guess which seemingly impossible problems can be solved relatively simply by technology (or already have been) and which are actually basically impossible.
This particular area of algorithmically generated video is only just starting to be explored (with very limited success) by digital giants such as Google and Facebook.
So here’s why I’m saying no to this idea:
It would be very difficult to compete in this marketplace currently, if Google & Facebook with all their resources are struggling to make anything worth watching;
I’m a theatre maker, not a software engineer;
Life is short: I don’t want to spend at least the next 3 years setting up a software start-up, that won’t use my skills well;
I’ve got other ideas for other projects I want to make, so I’m going to use my skills and energy where they’ll be making the most impact, and get on with making those.
You can see what we’re up to at www.theotherwayworks.co.uk
I’m Katie Day, and I’m Artistic Director of The Other Way Works.
We’re a Birmingham-based theatre company making playful theatre that immerses our audiences in the story.”