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Fans will likely have to wait longer than they'd prefer to eventually see a potential new Stargate television show, but that doesn't mean they can't see some of their favorite characters come back to life as a few different cast members from across the beloved franchise come together for a reunion table read that will see them perform from a series of brand new scripts.
The catch? Each one of these scenes has been generated by a special "Stargate AI," that was created specifically for this event — you can watch exclusive clips below — which will debut on The Companion, a premium science fiction magazine and podcast platform, on Nov. 6.
But what sets this particular artificial intelligence-generated script project apart from others is the fact that Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe co-creator Brad Wright worked closely with Google’s AI Lead, Laurence Moroney, to not only develop a brand new cluster of Stargate-specific AIs to feed seasons' worth of SG-1 and Atlantis scripts into, but also to create models or "bots" for each of the characters that might appear in the scenes. These bots would go on to affect the AI as it attempts to "write" scenes as each one represents a different character from the show and what they might say and do in different situations.
The idea came to Wright when The Companion — with whom he already has a Stargate look-back podcast — approached him to do a reunion script read-through, and he realized he didn't want to use an older script, and couldn't use a newly written one without MGM's permission, even though he'd already written the pilot for a potential new Stargate series that had been in the works at the time.
"I had the notion that if it wasn't me who wrote it, what if we got an AI to write it?" Wright tells SYFY WIRE. "My last show, Travelers, was very much about AI, [and] I had another series in development that was heavily into AI, so my head was in the AI space. But I thought, why not put it out there? Why not suggest that we do a read-through science project with members of the cast? I knew that some of them would just fall in love with the idea because I know them and I know how they're wired."
Wright decided to limit the number of characters that would be featured so as to make it easier for the AI itself. But in keeping with the general science experiment theme of this project, all four of them happened to be the two shows' most scientific characters: Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping, Travelers), Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks, Altered Carbon), Rodney McKay (David Hewlett, Nightmare Alley), and Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite, The Magicians).
"It certainly gave the AI a larger vocabulary. If it were Teal'c, how often would the AI just say the word, 'Indeed,'" says Wright of this particular choice, though he does note that there is a special guest character who turns up later during the reunion. "The fact is Daniel, Carter, and McKay in fact did speak the most words in the shows. And so there was a larger vocabulary for it to choose from. Jewel was added basically because I wanted another sort of wild card in there. And because it was going to be an interesting test because her character never interacted with Daniel or with Carter. So it was going to be an interesting extra challenge to the AI."
But as it turned out, the AI didn't need to be tested for it to do unexpected things. In that regard, it emulated actual writing, as Wright says the Daniel bot would keep insisting on joining a scene that already featured the Carter and McKay bots. "It just kept trying to insinuate itself in the scene and [Moroney] would go, 'What the hell?' as the AI was outputting lines," says Wright. "So and in that sense, it reflects real writing."
The AI-generated scripts are very much in line with others of that kind, in terms of random non-sequiturs and random, bad grammar, but more specific to Stargate itself. However, what truly captures the magic of the series are none other than the actors themselves, each of them falling back into character as they deliver their read-out dialogue. Wright had insisted they get the scripts for each of the scenes ahead of time as the AI was making up its own words — much like the writers of Stargate had done over the course of those shows — and he wanted to ensure that the actors would have been able to assign a pronunciation to any new or strange words.
"The thing I learned most in all of this is how good actors are and how good, good actors are at finding an interpretation and imbuing reason and logic and intention to a line that may not really have much of that," says Wright of his experience, which he also feels taps into how writers of long-running shows can start writing dialogue for the actors that match their style of delivery and speaking.
"That's where it becomes the partnership between writer and actor, where the actor is contributing as much of their own interpretation of the character, in terms of the rhythm, pace, cadence that they bring," notes Wright. "That is definitely something that the AI picked up on. Not just certain phrases that were repeated. Like, 'Oh, come on!' But everything. I think because there was a Daniel model, a Carter model, it spoke the way those characters spoke. That in and of itself was fascinating."
Despite how advanced the level of AI technology used in this project was, Wright says it's still not close to what it needs to be to write scripts from scratch, and that the AI featured in science fiction is certainly more ahead on that front.
"My biggest takeaway is that I was right. Those actors should be on screen again," says Wright. "It was glorious to see them and I was delighted that they were so willing and eager to embody those characters again. And my other big takeaway is that humans are not going to be out of a job writing screenplays anytime soon.
The Stargate AI reunion read-through video premieres on Nov. 6 at 2:00PM PT/ 9:00PM GMT. The video will be available on The Companion from November 23rd.You can sign up for a membership here.