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AI fears are fueling the labor strikes in Hollywood

Artificial intelligence is poised to completely change the film and TV industries, but Hollywood’s workers want a say in how it develops.
AI fears are fueling the labor strikes in Hollywood
Posted at 5:28 AM, Jul 22, 2023

Artificial intelligence is poised to be the next big thing in a bunch of different industries, including the entertainment sector. But the workers AI might one day replace are fighting for a say in how the technology is used—before it gets too big to stop.

Generative AI, meaning AI that can create text, images, and other content, can sometimes feel like a magic box—give it a prompt, and it’ll spit out a more-or-less correct response that looks like it’s been written by a person.

The technology’s ability to easily churn out human-quality work for cheap has many artists and writers worried. Artificial intelligence isn’t going to replace screenwriters wholesale any time soon, but it could still undermine creative jobs by giving production studios a cheap way to underpay writers.

Bryan Sullivan is a lawyer who specializes in crisis management for the entertainment industry. He told Next Level, "I don't think people realized until recently that writers view AI as a threat. The studios could cut the first layer of writing out by using an AI system and then hiring a writer to do a polish, which is a lot less money."

SEE MORE: Hollywood and a history of strikes: How did they turn out?

The potential threat of AI is one issue behind the Writer’s Guild of America’s most recent strike. Part of the union’s demands when they struck aimed to limit studios’ ability to use AI to cut costs on projects.

AI fears also motivated actors to walk off the job alongside the writers. The actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA, cited concerns that actors’ performances could be replicated by artificial intelligence as one justification for their strike.

Writers in Hollywood have already seen their contracts and opportunities shrink in the face of studios’ efforts to save money. In that environment, it’s hard not to look at AI in Hollywood as less of a creative engine and more of a cost-cutting measure.

Helen Silverstein is a video game writer and the co-chair of DSA-LA's Hollywood Labor Committee. She told Next Level: "So many writers who despite writing on Emmy award winning shows, are on food stamps or struggling, living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to survive. It is not just about writing or even just creativity at all. It's about working people being able to live, and create, and work, survive, and thrive."

There may not be a whole lot workers can do to protect themselves from being replaced; strikes only work when AI isn’t developed enough to cross the picket line. Strikes and protests from workers might not change how the technology behind AI develops, but they can try to shape how it’s used by the profit-driven industries around them.

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