“Democratisation” covers all manner of sins.


We already know that OpenAI’s chatbots can pass the bar exam without going to law school. Now, just in time for the Oscars, a new OpenAI app called Sora hopes to master cinema without going to film school. For now a research product, Sora is going out to a few select creators and a number of security experts who will red-team it for safety vulnerabilities. OpenAI plans to make it available to all wannabe auteurs at some unspecified date, but it decided to preview it in advance.

Other companies, from giants like Google to startups like Runway, have already revealed text-to-video AI projects. But OpenAI says that Sora is distinguished by its striking photorealism—something I haven’t seen in its competitors—and its ability to produce longer clips than the brief snippets other models typically do, up to one minute. The researchers I spoke to won’t say how long it takes to render all that video, but when pressed, they described it as more in the “going out for a burrito” ballpark than “taking a few days off.” If the hand-picked examples I saw are to be believed, the effort is worth it.

No doubt, Sora represents an impressive technological achievement by OpenAI. And on first glance, the case for efficiency and democratisation seems compelling. After all, tools like Sora promise cheaper and more accessible video content creation for all. But equating the mere production of more content with the democratization of a complex art form like filmmaking is a critical mistake.

True democratisation means empowering more diverse voices and perspectives to shape media and culture. It's an equity of opportunity and representation, not a quantity of output. More content, however slickly produced by algorithms, does not achieve cultural parity. We have to go deeper and ask questions like: Whose stories are being told? And who actually benefits from technological innovations like Sora?

Yes, mass video production enabled by smartphones and apps has allowed many more people to share their stories. But it has also contributed to an overwhelming and dehumanising deluge of content optimised to game the attention economy. All too often, genuine human voices still struggle to be seen and heard amidst the noise. Tools like Sora may allow a semblance of participation, but they'll also further consolidate creative control and profits among the techno-elite.

No matter how much tools and models like Sora showcase technological prowess, we have to be wary of equating automation with democratisation. The future of creativity and culture depends on upholding human stories, values and vision. Not cheapening them.

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