What the viral AI-generated ‘Barbenheimer’ trailer says about generative AI hype | The AI Beat

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A new AI-generated movie trailer that splices together the wildly-hyped movies Barbie and Oppenheimer into a mashup — featuring a pink mushroom cloud — has gone viral. 

The trailer offers a spot-on sendup on the “Barbenheimer” hype that had moviegoers flocking to see both movies back-to-back, even though the two films couldn’t be more different — Oppenheimer is a sober biopic about the life and legacy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, while Barbie is a fizzy, feminist, live-action look at the famous doll. 

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Powered by image generation AI Midjourney and movie generator Runway Gen2 and featuring AI-generated voices supposedly belonging to Margot Robbie and Matt Damon, the “Barbenheimer” crossover took just four days to make, according to the creator’s Reddit post, where he shared a link to his course on AI filmmaking. 


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But as a reporter covering AI’s cheerful, bullish, even fluffy side as well as its serious, sobering side, I can’t help but think about three things the AI-generated ‘Barbenheimer’ movie trailer says about the state of generative AI right now.

1. AI-generated entertainment is moving fast — perfect for today’s viral moments. 

So, it’s no surprise that as the Barbenheimer hype rocketed upward, any online content-maker could jump on board with their own quick-and-dirty AI-generated take to share across social platforms. A traditional ad agency couldn’t possibly move fast enough to pull off the same kind of “Barbenheimer” sendup to meet the moment, and the costs would be prohibitive enough that they likely wouldn’t even try. 

In an era when social media content is part of the zeitgeist more than ever, there’s no doubt that the speed of development of AI-generated entertainment is perfectly placed for today’s viral moments. Back in March, for example, a Reddit user shared an AI-generated video of Will Smith eating spaghetti on the r/StableDiffusion subreddit. It quickly spread on social media as well as the mainstream press, with one article saying the video “would haunt you for the rest of your life.” 

2. The ‘Barbenheimer’ trailer comes as creatives strike and regulators play AI catchup.

Hollywood has come nearly to a halt in recent weeks, with SAG-AFTRA actors and writers currently on strike and expressing particular concerns about the impact of gen AI on their industry and jobs. The “Barbenheimer” trailer is a perfect example: Who needs the pricey services of Margot Robbie and Matt Damon if you can come up with a serviceable AI copy? Why use the time-consuming work of artists or editors when you have the speedy output of Midjourney and Runway Gen 2? 

At the same time, AI-focused creatives who are excited by the possibilities of gen AI are going full-steam ahead — even as regulators and policy-makers sprint to catch up. The Senate will be schooled in AI this fall with an eye towards a foundation for developing regulations in 2024. Will that be too little, too late? 

3. The current generative AI hype may just be a candy-colored wrapper around a more serious, unsettling reality.

The AI-generated Barbenheimer trailer is, in my opinion, funny and adorable. But the idea that you could wrap one of history’s most horrifying periods — the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — in a candy-colored Barbie wrapper and a pink mushroom cloud is equal parts stunning and shocking. 

That’s gen AI in a nutshell — stunning and shocking, exciting and frightening, dazzling and appalling, sometimes all at once. But certainly, all stakeholders involved in AI development need to consider not just the sugary surface of what gen AI can do, but the deep, real issues that lay underneath. 

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