• Scientists from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have developed an artificial intelligence tool capable of reading a movie script and determining how it will be rated.
  • Movie ratings are a big deal, as they will determine who ultimately gets to see the content in theaters, and humans typically do these ratings.
  • The AI looks for specific things, such as drug use, sexual content, and violence in order to form a rating for the flick without even seeing the finished product.

Movie ratings are a very big deal. You see them at the end of every movie trailer and they offer an indication as to the content of the movie itself. A movie trailer might not look particularly intense, but the rating often gives it away, citing specific things like sexual content or violence and declaring the age that is suitable for viewers.

Humans have always done movie ratings, but because each movie is so unique, and each individual brings their own biases to the table when it comes to determining what does or doesn’t cross a certain line, it can sometimes feel like the criteria aren’t applied evenly across the board. A new AI tool developed by researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering offers an alternative in the form of an algorithm that takes data from a movie script and churns out a rating well ahead of the film even being shot.

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The tool sweeps through a movie script and searches for certain target words. Because movie scripts offer descriptions of the action taking place, the AI is capable of detecting when a scene is violent, includes foul language, has sexual overtones or obvious sexual content, or includes the use of illegal drugs. These are the major factors in whether or not a movie begins to move along the rating scale from G to PG-13 to R.

This is important because when studios greenlight a movie, they typically have a rating in mind. Sometimes that rating doesn’t come to fruition, and a movie that producers believed would get a PG-13 rating instead ends up with an R, potentially limiting its audience. A tool like this could offer a warning that the content is bordering on more serious territory well in advance of filming. The movie could be tweaked before it gets slapped with a more mature rating, saving the studio time and money.

During their development of the tool, the researchers discovered what they think are some interesting trends. For example, films with a certain amount of drug use tend to have a similar amount of sexual content. This is particularly true in films with low levels of violence, the researchers note.

“There seems to be a correlation in the amount of content in a typical film focused on substance abuse and the amount of sexual content. Whether intentionally or not, filmmakers seem to match the level of substance abuse-related content with sexually explicit content,” Victor Martinez, who led the work, said in a statement. “We found that filmmakers compensate for low levels of violence with joint portrayals of substance abuse and sexual content.”

You shouldn’t expect AI to overtake human movie raters any time soon, but it’s yet another example of how artificial intelligence is capable of things we’d never have dreamed of years ago.

Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech. Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.