Aug. 18 2014 04:48 PM

This little asshole of an AI is actually pretty good at recommending stuff to watch

venn diagram

Let's talk about the infographic on this page. In the first circle, you've got people who use Netflix on a regular viewing basis. In the next circle, you've got people who own a Sony Playstation 3 or 4.

There are two more circles, one for indecisive people who, when presented with a large selection, take fucking fooooorever to decide and people who will tolerate smug, wisecracking, frat-boy-like artificial-intelligence (AI) programs.

Jam a 6-inch stake right into the heart of that beast of a Venn diagram. That's me, and I am in Max's domain.

Last year, Netflix debuted Max, an AI feature for Playstation to help you discover new movies and TV shows based on your viewing habits and the star ratings you dish out. He's a disembodied voice, like a comedian who's traded stand-up for hosting reality TV, who scoots you along through a game-show environment where the goal is finding a great program to watch. I actually consult him once a month or so, but last week I sat down with a notepad to document the experience for this column:

I load Netflix on my PS4, and Max has a message waiting for me.

"You're so cute when you're choosing. That's why we go so well together." 

Max is a prick. Technically this account is registered to my fiancée, and I'm not really jealous, but I'm irritated that his default programming is so misogynistic.

Whatever. I click. Max loads and acts surprised to see me. He sounds like a clever college boy on coke as he sarcastically complains that his world has been a ghost town since I haven't solicited his suggestions in a few weeks. Then he gets started. 


Max blasts it out like you've chosen the Daily Double if Jeopardy were produced by Michael Bay. Max is still a smug little shit, but he's a little shit that wants to give me a prize.

The question: "Secret Societies" or "Horses."

Duh. Secret Societies. It's kinda stupid that he couldn't guess that.

A question mark flashes on the screen as Max processes. Then bing! He's pitching me on The Institute, a documentary about "some of the 10,000 San Franciscans who took part in the Jejune Institute, a combination citywide art project and living game, from 2008 to 2011."

Well, shit. That does look awesome. That looks like a movie my fiancée and I should have already seen, and I'm a little embarrassed that I've not heard of it before. 

Max has checkmated me in one move. Now what? I still have a column to finish.

I reluctantly click, "No, not now."

Max says something snide about how he appreciates my honesty in rejecting his selections. He recovers quickly and deals out three categories for me to choose from: "Exciting," "Violent" and "TV Comedies."

Hmm. Having tapped out Comedy Bang Bang and Parks and Recreation, we are indeed looking for a new short comedy series for nights when we don't have much time or attention span. TV comedies it is. 

Max launches into the next round: "The Rating Game." He throws out a bunch of films for me to rate or watch, with dramatic music producing an artificial, beat-the-clock urgency. He comes back to me with Scrubs. Fail. Then Trailer Park Boys, which I skip. He generates a few more suggestions: Weeds (add to the queue), Lilyhammer (I don't add), Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (I do, skeptically) and Malcolm in the Middle (already seen it, but give it five stars).

When I don't choose any of them to stream right now, Max turns incredulous and glum:

"What the? Really? None of those? Aahh fine, my bad. Listen, don't even think of breaking up with me. We've got to make this thing work. Come and try me again soon."

Again with the romantic stuff. 

I load Max a second time, and he comes back with Marc Maron's stand-up special, Thinky Pain. I add it to the list. On the third go, he comes back with John Hodgman's stand-up special, Ragnarok. Max asks if he can give me a 30-second pitch, and I think, Why not? He is one slick salesman, telling me how the guy from The Daily Show assumes a deranged-millionaire character to talk about the Mayan apocalypse. 

Yes please. Now. 

Content with himself, Max loads the video and disappears. I watch about a half-hour before I remember that I was supposed to write this column. 

Well played, Max. Well played.

Email or follow him on Twitter @Maassive.


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