By Raena Doty
Over the summer, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) both began ongoing strikes after major studios refused to meet the unions’ needs when renewing their contracts.
Following the rise of generated content made by artificial intelligence (AI), both unions had items on their list of demands to protect their members from their jobs being replaced by AI.
According to wgacontract2023.org, the WGA requested that studios “regulate use of artificial intelligence on [Minimum Basic Agreement]-covered projects: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.”
According to sagaftrastrike.org, “Performers need the protection of our images and performances to prevent replacement of human performances by artificial intelligence technology.”
To many people, these demands may seem unfair - after all, if technology can do it, why shouldn’t it be able to? Is the use of AI in these situations any different from the animation and CGI used in most modern blockbusters?
If AI can do it as good as or better than people, why shouldn’t it be used as a tool? Can it not make the work easier, or even possibly better, for writers and actors?
But AI isn’t comparable to the skills and lived experiences of living, breathing artists.
The reason why artists are so adamant AI shouldn’t be used is not because they’re afraid they won’t be as good at writing as AI is, but rather because AI will always be cheaper than a living, breathing artist.
The entertainment industry should be a meritocracy. While there are a lot of socioeconomic factors that may undermine this ideal, at least when two people are competing for a single job, they both have minimum needs to meet as human beings.
Machines don’t have those needs. They can pump out content 24/7 for the cost of electricity.
If a machine’s work is half as good as a human being’s, but it costs a fraction of the amount, it will always be economically advantageous to use the machine’s.
The threat AI presents is not that artists will lose jobs because they will find a competitor who is better than them.
The threat of AI is that it will always be cheaper than a human being, and rather than distributing the wealth gained by giving preference to the AI, the people paying for the AI will pocket the profit and take it away from the real, living, breathing artists, who will then be forced to take non-creative jobs where their brilliance will never be known.
AI, in the hands of corporations, is a threat to meritocracy. It may start with the artists - the careers that seem superfluous, that do not generate the necessities of life. But if the people controlling money are left unchecked, they will use it as a tool to get rid of careers and the paychecks that come with those jobs.
Even if you only consider how AI will affect the entertainment industry, if studios are allowed to use AI in place of actual actors and writers, we as the audience will suffer for it.
New stories will vanish. How are machines trained on the writing of yore supposed to keep up with the rapidly changing present?
People who could have been brilliant artists will be forced to take jobs where no one will ever know their talent.
And we, the audience, will get stories half as good in the meantime.
Support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.