Writers Strike 2023: Hollywood screenwriters don't want AI taking their jobs either


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  last year  •  9 comments

By:   Daniel Arkin

Writers Strike 2023: Hollywood screenwriters don't want AI taking their jobs either
The thousands of WGA scribes who went on strike this week are concerned in part about the rise of AI — and how the major studios might tap that technology going forward.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Hollywood screenwriters have long imagined dystopias where machines ruled over humans of the future. They are now starting to worry the machines are coming for them much sooner.

The thousands of unionized scribes who went on strike this week are demanding better pay and taking aim at other issues, including the rise of generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT, the AI-powered "chatbot" that has captivated and alarmed people in creative professions in recent months.

The Writers Guild of America said it wants Hollywood's top studios and networks to regulate the use of AI on creative projects. The union's specific demand, according to a document released Monday, states: "AI can't write or rewrite literary material; can't be used as source material; and MBA-covered [contract-covered] material can't be used to train AI."

230502-NYC-Hollywood-Writers-Strike-ac-534p-e798af.jpg Striking writers hold signs as they march and picket calling for better wages outside NBC's Peacock NewFront presentation in New York on Tuesday.Bebeto Matthews / AP

In a response that left many professional writers dispirited, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — the trade association that represents most of the industry's big entertainment companies — rejected that proposal. (The WGA represents some of NBCUniversal's news division employees.)

Instead, according to WGA leaders, the companies "countered by offering annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology" — a vague proposal that suggests industry leaders are not prepared to make any guarantees. (Comcast, the corporation that owns NBCUniversal, is represented by the trade group.)

The technology is moving so fast and will move even faster than we can anticipate, and that is why we have got to deal with it in this negotiation.

— Marc Guggenheim, co-creator of "Arrow" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow"

Marc Guggenheim, a co-creator of the superhero shows "Arrow" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow," said that the studios were trotting out the "same old song and dance" and delaying important decisions on major technological shifts.

"Historically, every time some new piece of technology comes along, the studios say, 'We understand your concerns, but everything is too new. Wait for the next negotiation cycle,'" he said. "But eventually some precedent gets set and at the next negotiation cycle they say, 'I don't know what to tell you. The precedent is set.' There's always foot-dragging."

The top spokesman for the AMPTP did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

ChatGPT has shown it is capable of generating narratives that imitate the content and style of previously published works. NBC News asked ChatGPT to write an original episode of the HBO anthology series "The White Lotus," for example, and the chatbot came back with a six-paragraph outline featuring characters from the first season in new scenarios.

The ersatz episode of "The White Lotus" reviewed by NBC News might not be Emmy-caliber, but the outline nonetheless points to a future that many professional writers find distressing.

"We all have to understand that this is the bad version of ChatGPT. It's not the better version we're going to see six months from now," Guggenheim said. "The technology is moving so fast and will move even faster than we can anticipate, and that is why we have got to deal with it in this negotiation."

Actor and producer Justine Bateman said in a tweet that other professional sectors should pay close attention to the WGA strike, which she described as a fight over the "devaluing of human effort, skill, and talent in favor of automation and profits."

The impasse over AI technology in Hollywood mirrors tensions in other creative professions.

ChatGPT has raised questions about whether media corporations will scale back on humans who write everything from advertising copy to news articles. (Full disclosure: What you are reading was written by a human.) AI-powered image generators such as DALL-E 2 and Midjourney have rattled people who make visual art for a living.

In one notable case study that made national headlines, an AI-generated song that imitated the styles of hip-hop artists Drake and The Weeknd sent waves of anxiety through the music industry, deepening existential concerns at the intersection of creativity, authorship, technology and the law.

"Whether it's music, photography, whatever the medium, there are creatives who are understandably and justifiably worried about the displacement of their livelihoods," said Ash Kernen, an entertainment and intellectual property attorney who focuses on new technology.

But at the same time, Kernen said there is a cadre of artists who welcome the rise of AI, seeing it as a tool for experimentation in their work and a new creative frontier to conquer. He said he could envision a "dual market future" — some artistic works created by humans, others by AI-powered technologies.

That the WGA and the studios are battling over AI underlines just how much has changed in the entertainment industry since the last time Hollywood writers went on strike in fall 2007. In those days, Netflix was best known for shipping DVDs in red envelopes and YouTube was just two years old.

Flash-forward to 2023, and the economic and technological landscape is vastly different. These days, ChatGPT is on hand to weigh in, as the novelist and former WGA President Howard A. Rodman discovered when he asked the chatbot to write a response to a tweet about the studios' rejecting the guild's AI proposal.

"The response from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ... seems dismissive of the WGA's concerns," ChatGPT told Rodman, according to a screenshot he shared on Twitter. "It's important to consider the potential consequences of automation on the livelihoods of writers and other creative professionals."


jrDiscussion - desc
PhD Principal
1  Hallux    last year

Still waiting for AI to 'write' a joke ... or even to laugh at one.

Just Jim NC TttH
Professor Principal
1.1  Just Jim NC TttH  replied to  Hallux @1    last year

These people seem to have gotten some bad info on AI..................or maybe I don't know the full capabilities but you are absolutely right. Show us one that seems to make them panic.

PhD Principal
1.1.1  Hallux  replied to  Just Jim NC TttH @1.1    last year

Obviously AI is smarter than a pet rock but our desire to anthropomorphize either is akin to a runaway train. I'll start to worry when AI clamors for a specific pronoun.

Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    last year

There are literally hundreds of scripted shows on tv right now when you include all the off the wall streaming channels. 

I have always wondered how these shows, some of which cannot possibly have a big audience, can make any money. 

Right Down the Center
Senior Guide
2.1  Right Down the Center  replied to  JohnRussell @2    last year
I have always wondered how these shows, some of which cannot possibly have a big audience, can make any money. 

Agree.  Makes me wonder how successful the writers of these shows will be in getting more money for a show that is already just staying alive.

Professor Expert
3  Nerm_L    last year

Rage against the machine.  There was probably a little of that, closer to home, this morning.

This is just another rinse and repeat episode in the long history of mechanization and automation.  We should've learned something by now.  The typical argument is that mechanization and automation is needed to control cost and it is true costs would be reduced.  But that cost reduction hasn't resulted in a price reduction until competition takes hold.  Mechanization and automation avoids the need to master a craft or trade which removes the idea of merit from the process and transforms human labor into a commodity.  And mechanization and automation transforms the marketplace into cookie cutter products competing with each other using styling and marketing campaigns rather than quality, durability, or capability.  Everything in a marketplace becomes the same; they only look different. 

A move toward mechanization and automation indicates an industry is in decline.  It's an attempt to exploit the market rather than sustain the industry.  Removing humans from the process diminishes the motivation to innovate.  Machines don't care about mastering a craft or trade; they only produce cookie cutter results.  The creative spark is lost.

Right Down the Center
Senior Guide
3.1  Right Down the Center  replied to  Nerm_L @3    last year
The creative spark is lost.

Watching some of the TV shows and movies over the past several years there is already little spark left.

Right Down the Center
Senior Guide
4  Right Down the Center    last year

At least AI won't strike.........yet

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
5  Buzz of the Orient    last year

Wonder if we are going to have ROBOCOP in our future.


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