Ben Polkinghorne

Ben Polkinghorne – Let AI choose what film to watch

What started with a need to choose a film on Friday night transpired into a business – Ben Polkinghorne has fixed our cinematic indecision through AI with

It’s a familiar feeling, sitting down and trying to figure out what to watch, often spending more time going through options than actually watching a movie. Current algorithm recommendations don’t solve the issue of what you actually want to watch based on how you’re feeling right now. Unlike content based algorithms that look at your previous choices, or collaborative filtering which recommends popular content, focuses on how a viewer is feeling in that moment.

‘What we are really excited about is that this new approach can actually help people discover films that they just ordinarily wouldn’t come across’.
Watch what you want based on how you feel

Whilst streaming services have provided countless options not available to us in the same capacity before, it has also created a sense of decision fatigue. Ben quotes Hick’s Law which argues that as the number of choices increases, the time, mental energy, and deliberation required also increase resulting in a ‘paradox of choice’. What appears as the availability of more options can actually hinder rather than facilitate decision-making, as each choice requires additional time and mental effort to evaluate options.

To combat this technological surplus, navigates all this choice by whittling your choice down based on what you want. Brilliant films get lost in the crowd, but can help you find the right one. Drawing on inspiration from Tinder who ‘gamified’ dating with the swipe mechanic, Ben hopes to use the same playful technique in the approach to choosing films. interface app & website

This fascinating intersection of AI and human emotions led to ground-breaking research. At the drawing board, Ben realised that his new algorithm wouldn’t work by just being based off a script, because an audience may be feeling other emotions to character’s in a film – for example, if they are angry, we might feel scared. His proposals on looking into the emotional effect of video-based content won an Innovate UK Grant for self-management of mental health.

His pitch? ‘Imagine if you could change your mood with a TV remote and empower people to actually choose how they want to feel by doing something they already love.’

This led to working with neuroscientists at the University of Surrey, where Ben and 30 other volunteers wore EEG headsets to measure brain activity in correspondence with various film scenes meant to inspire certain emotions. This technology has now been filed for a patent.’s library is based on several APIs and other resources, resulting in a collection of over 700,000 films to choose from. What’s special is that most of these movies can be codified by emoji, with these simplified expressions painting a thousand words where words may fail.

Ben uses science to support his work in how movies can transform our moods, and how film is a great vehicle for engaging with your emotions, and arriving at a different emotion by the end of the film – ‘I think that’s why we love movies, because they take us on an emotional journey and it the most pure form of storytelling that can take you to different worlds whilst taking you out of your own reality’.