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AI and the Hollywood Strikes — What’s the Connection?




The recent Hollywood strikes struck a chord with creative workers. It is a revolution begging for a seamless convergence of AI and human workforces without people being replaced. Writers and actors fear for their paychecks because of unethical AI employment in studios. They want productive conversations about responsible collaboration. 

The discourse provides an essential precedent for how companies should and should not employ AI in the future. How did it unfold, and has it reached an end?

An Introduction to Generative AI vs. Actors and Writers

For better or worse, generative AI has made itself known in every industry. Whereas some corporations can use it to improve productivity and innovation, creatives fear AI will replace them. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in Hollywood instigated several strikes in 2023 to ensure AI would not compromise their livelihoods. 

Both unions understand how AI is an inevitability. Their goals were not to dismiss it from the film industry for good. Instead, they wanted compromise and certainty that human-generated content would still be more valued than an AI’s. 

Consistency would only happen with a push for AI regulation and contractual changes. Both strikes have officially ended or reached tentative agreements as of November 2023. 

Why Was AI at the Forefront?

WGA and SAG had similar motivations for calling the strikes. Surveys show around 80% of workplaces want to employ a generative AI tool for their teams, but fewer report established governance for these resources. It is why Hollywood’s unions are speaking out. For writers, it was about AI developing scripts and devaluing work written by people. For actors, it was about using AI to regenerate their likeness without hiring them or having them on set. 

Actors and writers have a genuine reason to be concerned with studios. If they did not take action now, companies would continue using AI without oversight and put workers out of business. They were already using AI to replace humans. They took advantage of inexpensive AI technology because no regulations said they could not. 

Studios wanted to use generative AI to write pilots and replace how many people were on set. Writers started becoming less common in writing rooms and background actors found themselves in shots they never appeared for because of AI-generated replicas. Voice replication is another issue, too.

Both groups were nervous about how studios were using their visual data and written content to train AI without receiving compensation for their contributions. As it becomes commonplace for studios to use existing data and content to improve machine learning in AI, writers and actors wonder how quickly it will advance past human capabilities. 

Presently, large language models can only replicate human speech by using logic to assume the next best word in a written thought. This structure does not currently support the creation of novel ideas, but it could someday. The worry is unregulated, rapid AI development will lead to potential malpractice and diminished human contribution to entertainment. 

What Agreements Did the Parties Reach?

WGA reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in October 2023 by compromising contract adjustments. The points ensured WGA members had leverage and value over AI counterparts. Here are some of the key points from the WGA deal:

  • AI will not receive writing credits, meaning it cannot take money away from writers.
  • AI is not allowed to write or rewrite entire scripts and writers may choose if and how they use AI in the writer’s room.
  • Studios must employ a minimum number of writers at each phase of the production process.
  • Creatives must disclose if they use AI for content.

As of November 2023, SAG has a tentative agreement with AMPTP containing these contingencies:

  • Studios must ask for actor consent on AI-related issues, including replications or using their likeness for training purposes. 
  • They receive protection whether AI material is for licensed use or on-set employment.
  • The studio must compensate clients who provide consent.

Despite clarity over machine learning and employment security, upcoming federal regulations may cause established agreements to change over time. AI will eventually create more jobs than it takes, but the transitional period will bring contention. This is the first AI battle of its kind, primarily because it involves unions. 

What Are the Ramifications of These AI Deals?

The SAG and WGA strikes may assert unions are an answer to budding AI concerns. Similar worries rise in non-entertainment industries, from manufacturing to accounting. If Hollywood finds loopholes around these deals to incorporate AI more than it should, unionizing might become an anti-AI trend. 

The strikes have already catalyzed potential striking for the video game industry, which will add fuel to heated conversations of a similar nature concerning scriptwriting and voice acting. However, it will add nuance to arguments over AI-generated art. Each strike will ignite subsequent outcries, providing more layers and context to much-needed discussions in an age where everyone is learning respectful use of this pivotal technology simultaneously.

Union actions were essential to dismantling industrial assumptions about entertainment workers. It demonstrated not all of them are paid exorbitant celebrity wages, and the agreements sought to ensure fair pay to maintain middle-class working conditions. 

This is a surprising way AI has made an impact because it forces society to combat cultural assumptions about workers’ rights and fair labor conditions. Societal complacency about these hidden injustices means appropriate regulatory bodies do not acknowledge them until exploitation has already occurred. 

Employers must take action based on the takeaways from the Hollywood strikes. It’s vital to explore excitement about AI with workforces in a transparent and supportive fashion. Every industry could benefit from generative AI for reduced stress and empowered imaginations if conscientious about potential abuse and minimized human effort. Entertainment is unlikely to generate fresh, captivating stories that engage audiences if humanity does not fight to preserve creative workers.

Finding a Happy Medium in Hollywood

All industries and workers must remain receptive and prepared to integrate AI into their workflows. Obstacles and debates are bound to surface as everyone navigates ethical use. The Hollywood strikes taught other sectors how employers must prioritize the value of human contribution or risk reputational losses and disappearing morale. 

Companies should be willing to listen to staff feedback on leveraging AI in their industry. That way, they will not risk perpetuating labor exploitation and narrow-mindedness on AI adoption.

Zac Amos is a tech writer who focuses on artificial intelligence. He is also the Features Editor at ReHack, where you can read more of his work.