AI and the Writers’ Strike

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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AI and the Writers’ Strike
AI and the Writers’ Strike It’s unlikely that the writers who penned those sci-fi scripts, or the actors giving soul to a machine, ever thought that AI might represent a serious threat to their livelihoods. One of the central concerns of the present 2023 Writer’s Strike is the use of AI (artificial intelligence) technology in the creation of scripts. Kelly Lawler, writing for USA Today writes, “Hollywood has furnished the world with an abundance of stories about artificial intelligence, utopian and dystopian alike. A key issue holding up negotiations with the major Hollywood studios is the use and regulation of AI. The unions worry that text generators like ChatGPT could write screenplays without any humans involved.” Could a lot of writers be replaced with a generative AI program? Haibing Lu, associate professor of Information Systems & Analytics at Santa Clara University says, “I don’t think that there’s a way to totally ban the technology. We have to adapt to it. All parties need to sit down and figure out what’s the proper way to channel the profits.” Wow. This is thorny stuff, because no one really knows where we will be 10 years from now. Anyone who tells you they know is lying. Threats to Writers As the strike goes on, studios will be experimenting more and more with AI technology, accelerating its adoption in Hollywood, leading to another challenge to human writers. The use of generative AI to write a first draft of a show, only then to have human writers expand or tweak the content may result in fewer writers in the writers’ room and less hours for those who are employed. NPR reports, “Writers are wondering what sort of AI threat they may be facing in the writer’s rooms of the future: a kind that makes them redundant, or one that serves them as a useful tool.” So, let’s look at the fact that AI is just math. It begins by scraping (gathering) text from the internet…billions of bits of data. Everything from the Constitution to the Bible to Einstein’s writings. The created content of human authors is fed into a computer, sorted and analyzed. Then, humans say, “computer, make a model.” The model generates text based on what’s been created before. It creates a script that’s derivative of content that’s already been produced. That’s the rub! All kinds of issues emerge, including copyright problems, because when an AI program creates a story, it, essentially, steals the work of writers from Plato to Paddy Chayevsky to Wes Anderson and incorporates their themes, style and voice into a ‘new’ work. Charlie Converse, owner of Converse Pool and Spa here in Topanga (fabulous, if you need repair or maintenance), reminded me it is legal to create an impression of the work of others. He observed that people used to sample Hip Hop music and use it to create their own work, until the industry caught on and made people pay royalties. According to Charlie, “AI walks a line between what is derivative and impression. One proposed solution is that AI stops learning new copyrighted data (as if). Charlie thinks AI programs need to be developed that can accurately trace source material that is used without an author’s permission. After all, teachers have programs that check students’ work for plagiarism. There are also programs that suggest to teachers that a student’s work may be produced by an AI program and not the student him or herself. Why not AI checking up on AI? Here’s the thing. By the time these kinds of programs are created or there are regulations in place regarding lifting material from human creators, the AI programs will have already learned more than enough information to mimic the majority of copyrighted content. The Disruption What has to happen? The AI technology is useless without a human to prompt it. Writers can still be important as agents to direct the AI technology. The prompts will be written by today’s writers. As Rama Kingston reminds me, it’s not about “either or,” it’s about “and.” “Not writers or AI, but writers and AI.” AI is not a be-all-end-all. It is just a disruptive technology. It will change an industry, not end it. What I would suggest to the Writers’ Guild is to demand training and prompt engineering or piloting courses for their membership, because those who can pivot with the ever-changing technologies coming at us are the ones who will be successful. Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot

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