TV and film writers are fighting to save their jobs from AI. They won’t be the last

(CNN) By any measure, John August is a successful screenwriter. He wrote films such as “Big Fish”, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Go”. But even he is concerned about the impact AI could have on his work.

A powerful new generation of AI tools, trained on vast amounts of online data, can now generate essays, song lyrics, and other written work in response to user prompts. While there are clearly limits to the ability of AI tools to produce compelling creative stories, these tools are only getting more advanced, putting writers like August on their toes.

“Writers are concerned that our scripts are the feed material that goes into these systems to generate other scripts, processing and writing story ideas,” said August, a board member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA ), at CNN. “The work we do cannot be replaced by these systems.”

August is one of more than 11,000 WGA members who went on strike Tuesday morning, immediately halting production on some TV shows and possibly delaying the start of new seasons on others until later. This year.

The WGA is demanding a host of changes from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), ranging from a pay raise to receiving clear guidelines regarding the use of streaming services. But as part of their demands, the WGA is also fighting to protect their livelihoods from AI.

In a proposal posted on the WGA’s website this week, the union said AI should be regulated so that it “cannot write or rewrite literary material, cannot be used as a source” and that the writers’ work “cannot be used”. to train the AI.”

August said the AI ​​request “was one of the last things” added to the WGA’s list, but was “clearly an issue that editors are concerned about” and needs to be addressed now rather than when their contact is available again in three years. By then, he says, “it may be too late.”

WGA said the proposal was rejected by AMPTP, which countered by proposing annual meetings to discuss advances in technology. August said AMPTP’s response shows they want to keep their options open.

In a document sent to CNN in response to some of the WGA’s requests, the AMPTP said it values ​​the work of creatives and that “the best stories are original, insightful and often come from people’s own experiences.”

“AI raises difficult and important creative and legal questions for everyone,” he writes. “Writers want to be able to use this technology as part of their creative process, without changing how credits are determined, which is complicated given that AI material cannot be copyrighted. So that’s something that needs a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”

He added that the current WGA agreement defines a “writer” as a “person” and said “AI-generated material would not be eligible for writing credit.”

The writers’ attempt to negotiate on AI is perhaps the most high-profile labor battle yet to address concerns about cutting-edge technology that has captured the world’s attention in the six months since the public release of ChatGPT.

Goldman Sachs economists estimate that up to 300 million full-time jobs worldwide could be automated in some way by the new wave of AI. White-collar workers, including those in administrative and legal positions, are expected to be hit the hardest. And the impact could be felt sooner than some think: IBM’s CEO recently suggested that AI could eliminate the need for thousands of jobs at his company alone over the next five years.

David Gunkel, a professor in the communications department at Northern Illinois University who tracks AI in media and entertainment, said screenwriters want clear guidelines on AI because “they can see the writing on the wall.” .

“AI is already replacing human labor in many other areas of content creation: copywriting, journalism, SEO copywriting, etc.,” he said. “The WGA is simply trying to stand out and protect its members from ‘tech unemployment’.”

The picket began outside Netflix in Hollywood, California on May 2, 2023.

While film and television screenwriters in Hollywood are currently leading the charge, professionals in other industries will almost certainly pay attention.

“There are definitely other industries that need to pay close attention to this space,” said Rowan Curran, an analyst at Forrester Research who focuses on AI. He noted that digital artists, musicians, engineers, real estate professionals and customer service workers will all feel the impact of generative AI.

“Look carefully at this #WGA strike,” Justine Bateman, writer, director and former actress, wrote in a Tweeter shortly after the start of the strike. “Understand that our fight is the same as the one that is coming next in your professional sector: it is the devaluation of human effort, skill and talent in favor of automation and profits.”

AI in film and television

AI has had its place in Hollywood for years. In the 2018 film “Marvel Avengers Infinity Wars,” the face of Thanos – a character played by actor Josh Brolin – was created in part through technology.

Crowd and battle scenes in films such as “Lord of the Rings” and “Meg” have used AI, and the more recent Indiana Jones has used it to rejuvenate Harrison Ford’s character. It was also used for color correction, finding images faster during post-production and making improvements such as removing scratches and dust from images.

But AI in screenwriting is in its infancy. In March, an episode of “South Park” titled “Deep Learning” was co-written by ChatGPT, and the tool was very plot-focused (characters use ChatGPT to talk to girls and write school papers).

August said that writers are largely willing to play ball with tools, as long as they are used as launching pads or for research and that writers are always credited and used throughout the production process.

“The screenwriters aren’t Luddites, and we were quick to use new technologies to help us tell our stories,” August said. “We happily moved from typewriters to word processors and it increased productivity….. But we don’t need a magic typewriter that types scripts on its own.”

Since large language models are trained on texts that humans have already written and find patterns in words and sentences to create responses to prompts, concerns about intellectual property also exist. “It is entirely possible for a (chatbot) to generate a script in the style of a particular type of filmmaker or screenwriter without the prior consent of the original artist or the Hollywood studio that owns the intellectual property of this material “, said Gunkel.

For example, one could ask ChatGPT to generate a zombie apocalypse drama in the style of David Mamet. “Who should be credited for this?” said August. “What happens if we allow a producer or a studio head to come up with a treatment or a pitch or something that looks like a script that no writer has touched?”

For now, the legal landscape remains highly unstable on the issue, with regulations lagging behind the rapid pace of AI development. In early April, the Biden administration said it was seeking public comment on how to hold artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT accountable.

“We can’t protect studios from their own bad choices,” August said. “We can only protect writers from abuse.”

Can AI cross the picket line?

The strike, and the demands around AI in particular, come at a time when writers and studios are feeling financial strain.

Many companies represented by AMPTP have seen their stock prices plummet, leading to significant cost reductions, including layoffs. The need to manage costs, combined with dealing with the fallout from the strike, could only cause companies to turn to AI for scriptwriting.

“In the short term, this could be an effective way to circumvent the WGA strike, primarily because (large language models), who are considered property and not personnel, can be employed for this task without violating the picket line,” Gunkel said. Such an “experiment” could also show production studios whether it’s possible “to get by with fewer humans involved,” he said.

But Joshua Glick, visiting professor of film and electronic arts at Bard University, believes such a move would be misguided.

“It would be quite an aggressive and adversarial move for studios to go ahead with AI-generated scripts in terms of getting writers to come to the negotiating table, because AI is a big deal. ‘crucial stumbling block in the negotiations,’ said Glick, who also co-created Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen, an exhibit at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image.

“At the same time, I think the outcome of these scripts would be pretty mediocre at best,” he said.

Regardless of how studios react, the problem is unlikely to go away in Hollywood. Contracts for film and TV actors are up in June, and many are worried about the impact of AI on their faces, bodies and voices, August said.

“As writers, we don’t want tools to replace us, but actors have the same concerns with AI, as do directors, editors, and anyone who does creative work in this industry,” said he added.

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